FACE IT: Is Text-Parenting Replacing the Family Dinner Table?

06/07/2010 12:49 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Michele Willens Journalist, theatre critic RobinHoodRadio, and editor, 'Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change'

The last time my son, daughter, husband and I sat down together for a meal was ... well, the last time we took a vacation together. I made a heroic attempt on Memorial Day, when I had theater tickets and a dinner reservation. Alas, my daughter dropped out hours before, due to a pressing school assignment. Three of us enjoyed Denzel in the flesh and excellent pizza, and his father and I figured just getting our son out of his room and out of headphones was a victory.

Like millions of others, I sat down with my mother, father and siblings virtually every night while I lived at home. My mother did not work, except in the kitchen, and my father would show up at 6 p.m. every night and we would all move to the table. There we consumed pretty decent food -- was anyone else eating canned pineapple and cottage cheese and cream cheese and walnut jello mold? -- but I guess social observers would say what was most important was that we were all together, even briefly.

My kids, of course, wonder what we could possibly have talked about. The truth is, not much. I remember vocabulary games my dad used to play and perhaps we talked a bit about what had transpired in our days. But I truly don't recall any revealing or probing discussions. And I , for one, kept most my inner thoughts right there.

Today, of course it is all about communicating via electronic gadgets and pathways. I have yet to be twittered by my daughter but that's only because I can't for the life of me figure out what it is, how to do it and why we need it. But in truth, I feel I am more in touch with my kids than my parents were with me. Face it, sometimes it is easier to say things in a text.

I learned about menstruation via a cringe-inducing little film when I was in the fifth grade called Mary Grows Up. I am quite sure my own daughter learned the basics from me, somehow, in the midst of our hectic lives. I like driving to my son's school to pick him up simply because it is enforced time together. Yes, his ipod is going but I can usually sneak in a few questions or anecdotes. And I believe something is getting through all those wires, beats and beeps.

This was proved to me on Mothers Day, when my children gave me the most cherished and creative gift I could imagine: a homemade CD featuring versions of songs I love. They included everything from K.D Laing's "Hallelujah" and Dean Martin's sexy cowboy song, "My Rifle, My Pony and Me," to those that meant the most to me as a young girl, like "Gidget" and the theme from "The Mickey Mouse Club." Some of their selections held immense personal significance to me. To name a few: "If I Were a Carpenter" by Bobby Darin, who I briefly dated, and "Killing Me Softly with His Song," which I, in fact, played a key role in making happen.

What did this show me? Despite the fact that years seemingly go by without us all sitting and talking, my children know me very well -- much better than my own parents, who insisted I sit at the table with them every night, ever truly knew me. I have friends who tell me they insist on family dinners at least once a week, despite the fact they may get home late and the kids have likely already had two or three recipe-shattering snacks. More power to them.

Then there is one clan I know that recently managed to bridge the old and new in truly memorable fashion. They had their Passover dinner via SKYPE, with half the family in New York, one son in Buenos Aires and the father and uncle in Indonesia. Now that's a family dinner that means something.

Michele Willens' play FAMILY DINNER, will perform at the Beckett Theatre in NYC from June 17-July 3.