Many years ago, I brought my two young sons to visit my grandparents. Lunch was served, and my husband and I did our best to stay positive and encouraging while our busy 2-year-old did what we considered to be normal 2-year-old things during the meal. He knelt on the chair, pushed his fingers into his food, refused to eat, and got down from the table multiple times.
My grandparents, however, were less than charmed by the disruptions. They tsked disapprovingly, asked “Why won’t he eat what he’s served?” and constantly corrected his sitting posture (“Sit down on your backside! We do not sit on our knees!”). Each time he climbed down from the chair, my grandfather tried to order him back to the table. At last, Grandpa looked my little one straight in the eyes and said gruffly, “Sporty, if you was mine, I’d put you back where you came from.”
I thought they were being extreme. They thought I was being wildly permissive. Welcome to the intergenerational meal: An occasion where decades of different social norms, manners, expectations, and family dynamics collide over Grandma’s special chicken recipe. It can be a wonderful blend of people and preferences, or a tense one, or somewhere in between – but there are almost certainly going to be different ideas about proper behavior and eating habits.
With the holiday season rapidly approaching, many of us are gearing up for more dinners with extended family from all different age groups and backgrounds. But the occasional get-together isn’t the only time multiple generations gather for family meals. Multi-generational households in the U.S. are steadily rising, with an estimated 18% of the population living in homes with 3 or more generations present. In addition, about 8 million children are currently being raised by grandparents or other non-parent family adults. That’s a lot of family dinners impacted by generation gaps.
Here are some of the common challenges – and unique benefits – families experience when different generations gather at the table:
Whether you’re living in a multi-generational household, or plan to share more meals with extended family during the upcoming season, there are a lot of great reasons to cherish those moments at the table together. Yes, there can be some tricky dynamics to navigate, but we hope you’ll find that the upsides outweigh the challenges.
A hearty beef stew is a comforting family meal for all ages! Try this easy slow cooker recipe from pediatrician and family meals advocate Dr. Kristin Saxena.
Have fun with your family history by playing a round of “Which One?”
Help get the conversation flowing between generations with these anytime, anywhere Interview questions!