If you're trying to get your family around the table tonight and every night (and are facing some resistance) I urge you to persevere. My (sometimes forced!) family dinners left me with some wonderful gifts that I still appreciate today, many years later. What are they?
They gave me a platform
Even though I could talk to my family anytime, dinner time was a different thing. A time and place where everyone was available, open and interested (well, grouchy teenage me aside). As a child, dinner was a platform for me to show off what I learned that day or ask questions. I didn't have to interrupt anyone's work to say my piece, it was a set time when I knew I'd have the opportunity to chat with my family and that always made me feel comforted.
They taught me manners
Table manners, that is. It didn't matter what was on the menu, dinner meant cloth napkins, sitting up straight and chewing with my mouth closed. I knew how to hold a fork but also how to eat with chopsticks. Valuable lessons all.
They taught me to decipher flavors
Before I took up cooking, eating dinner with my family gave me a chance to learn about food. I almost hate to admit it, but being forced to eat what was on my plate (whether I was into it or not!) did usually pay off when I wound up finding a new favorite. My mom's habit of talking to me about what was in each dish she prepared really helped me appreciate my food and pinpoint things I especially loved — a habit I'm glad to have today.
They taught me to prove my point
When we weren't discussing the food, my family sometimes talked politics, social issues and current events and when I had an opinion on the topic, I was encouraged to examine why I felt the way I did. I couldn't just make blanket statements with nothing to back it up. I had to put thought into my opinions, be informed and make up my own mind, not just repeat what I'd heard elsewhere. It taught me to think for myself.
This is the stuff of life, folks. Eat dinner together.