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Family dinners: Important, or overrated?

Oct. 12, 2011 at 8:42 AM ET

The family dinner has been touted as the cure for everything from childhood obesity to teen drug use. By now, most of us know we're supposed to be sitting down every night -- or at least a couple nights a week -- with our spouses and kids to eat a healthy meal and trade stories about our days. But are we really doing it?

Michelle Obama is. The First Lady tells TODAY's Al Roker:

"That's something that we do.  6:30, as much as possible-- we sit down for dinner.  The president's schedule stops.  He comes up for dinner.  He may have to go back to the office, but we eat dinner together.  And what it does is, number one, it forces families to cook.  Which is another way to, you know, be healthy is preparing food at home.  And I think what we find is that when you're sitting around the table having a conversation, you're not focused on how much you can eat.  You're focused on trying to get your point in.  And you slow down...."

There goes the "too busy" excuse. If the leader of the free world can do it, why can't we? (Of course, if we all had Air Force One to help us drive carpool, perhaps some time would open up in our days.)

But as great as family dinners sound, the insistence on them in recent years is causing a bit of a backlash. Amber Kinser at the Museum of Motherhood blog notes that, despite all the talk about "family" meals, it's usually the moms who bear the psychological and practical burden of getting food on the table and getting everyone to sit down at it. Sometimes, she notes, it's just too hard to make any sense.

A mother of three kids under age 7 on the DC Urban Moms message board asks, "Family dinner EVERY night? Really?" (Can't you just hear the exasperation in her voice?) She writes: "What bothers me is the assumption that dinner time is the only time things should be or can be discussed. We talk about things at all times of the day. I find the drive to school and after school very productive." Her question was provocative enough that the debate over it went on for 11 pages!

What about you? Are family dinners important enough to you that you make them happen, no matter what? Do you agree with the First Lady that they're important, but you can't figure out how to make it work with your schedule? Or do you think family dinners are just overrated?

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