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A tradition worth preserving

If you ask Gary and Debbie Rolph what tradition they would like to see perpetuated in today's society, they're apt to say, "The family dinner."

The Rolphs are strong advocates for parents and children sitting down to eat at least one meal together a day, whether that meal is called dinner or supper, lunch or breakfast. If the subject were to become a national issue, they'd probably volunteer as campaign managers and enlist the help of their children: Jennifer, 14; Joshua, 13; Heather, 9, and Meagan 6."I have quite a reputation of being respectfully aggressive about the importance of parents and children eating together," said Brother Rolph, a Sunday School teacher in the Buffalo Grove Ward, Longrove Illinois Stake. He recently was released as elders quorum president. "I've been concerned about the deterioration of time with the family. I'm annoyed that too often families don't have time to sit down together, and that we're expected to tend to other things before we tend to our families.

"I travel for a living," continued Brother Rolph, a regional manager of sales and marketing for a leasing company. "Several years ago, I got discouraged coming home and not finding anybody here. I've now been able to bring my traveling down to one or two nights a week, and we're having dinner together. Being away from my family made it important for us to to have our meals together."

When he's away from home on business, the rest of the family continues to share meals. Sister Rolph concedes juggling schedules, planning and preparing meals and just the physical act of getting everyone to be at the same place at the same time isn't always easy. But, she said, it's worth the effort.

"I think the family dinner hour is a dying tradition," she said. "We've reached a stage in our society in which both parents are out of the home a lot and children are left to kind of fill their own time slots, determining when they come and go. Parents and children are hardly ever home at the same time, except to sleep. That's sad, because eventually they come to the point where they don't feel like they're a family any longer.

"It's worth the extra effort to get the family together. If you don't, you miss the opportunity to visit with each other and your children, to talk about things that are important, or just chat about what's going on in each other's lives. There are meal times when we don't say a whole lot, but the fact that we're all together is important and gives us the opportunity to talk. We've never had the kids balk about being here."

Sister Rolph, who serves as nursery leader in their ward, said one of the biggest advantages her family has is that she doesn't need to work outside the home. "I can be flexible because I'm home," she said. "That makes a difference even though I'm in and out. I would love to have a standard dinner time, but that doesn't work. Sometimes we have to eat earlier than usual, and sometimes we eat later, holding off until the last one gets home.

"There are times when we have only half an hour leeway between the time when the first one gets home and when somebody has to leave. Everybody helps. If they didn't, I don't know if this would ever work out. We don't have big fancy dinners, except for special occasions. Sometimes, we have soup and sandwiches. I think the important thing is not just what we eat, but that we're eating together, even if for only 20 minutes."

Brother Rolph said, "Some say it's impossible for families to have their meals together these days, but I believe people do what they want to do, that they have time for what's important to them. If they want time for their careers, they have time for their careers. If they want to play golf, they somehow find time to play golf, or whatever else they want to do. To me, making time for family meals is like making time for home teaching. If you want to do it, then you do it. As with everything else, it's a matter of priorities, and it's the principle of motivation.

"You have a delicate balance trying to fit dinner in with everything else, but it can be done. And it's not always easy. We have piano lessons, temple trips, Mutual activities, Relief Society and priesthood responsibilities, plus all the things that come with school and an assortment of other things going on.

"There comes a time when we have to ask, `What do we really want to do?' We have dinner together because that is something we deem valuable and important; it's something we desire.

"You've got to be careful with what you want your kids to remember was important when they were growing up. Do you want them to remember grabbing a sandwich as they were going out the door, or sitting down and eating with their family?" - Gerry Avant

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