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Dr. Richard Cuenca’s Passover Letter: Our Most Precious Responsibility

Dear Posnack School Parents:

In a survey of a thousand families, children were asked, “If you were granted one wish about your parents, what would it be?” Most parents predicted that their children would say spending more time with them. They were wrong. The children’s number one wish was for their parents to be less tired and less stressed.

Not to make parents feel even worse, but studies have shown that parental stress weakens children’s brains, depletes their immune systems, increases their risk of obesity, mental illness, diabetes, allergies, and even tooth decay. Wow! Bringing stress home from the office has its consequences.

Thankfully there is something we can do for our children that provides opportunities for quality stress-free (at least potentially) time. There is strong research in the field of child psychology that supports the idea that children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and develop eating disorders.  In addition, the research in this area also found that children who enjoy family meals together have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem. The most comprehensive survey ever done on this topic, a report that examined how American children spent their time between 1981 and 1997, discovered that the amount of time children spend eating meals at home as a family was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioral problems. It turns out that mealtime spent together as a family is more influential than time spent in school, studying, or playing sports.

Unfortunately, for many American families the busy schedule of life prevents many family meals from happening together. A study from UNICEF determined that Americans ranked twenty-three out of twenty-five countries when it came to fifteen-year-olds who eat together with their parents at least “several times a week.” Less than two-thirds of Americans answered “yes” compared to more than 90% of Europeans when asked about eating family meals together. The most shocking evidence comes from a study done at UCLA that found that less than 17% of the time, American families ate together even when everybody was home.

I know this research is hard to accept. How can something as simple as eating together as a family have so much of an impact on the lives of our children? I also understand how difficult it is for families to actually schedule meals together with homework to be done, baseball practice running late, and parent work schedules. But there is no hiding from this research. Time and time again the research demonstrates that eating meals together as a family makes a difference. It makes a big difference.

As we come together as a Jewish nation this Passover holiday to celebrate our freedom, let’s remind ourselves that spending time with our children is our most precious responsibility and obligation as parents. Yes, we all enjoy the freedoms granted us by living in America, but with this freedom of free will, Hashem is granting parents the opportunity to teach our children what freedom really means- the freedom to live a meaningful life bound in the values of Torah.

Chag kascher v’sameach; I wish all of our Posnack School families a meaningful, sweet and healthy Pesach.

Dr. Richard Cuenca
Head of School