Originally published in the Greenfield Recorder.
By Kena Vescovi and Nicole Lyman, Valuing Our Children Family Center
Whether you’re running from one Zoom meeting to another or rushing home from work at the end of a long day, we all know the exhausting feeling of trying to feed the kids, get the homework done, and make it through bedtime in one piece. Parenting is hard. Parenting in a pandemic is even harder. Despite the endless hours we are spending at home these days, it can be difficult to find quality time to spend together and the extreme stress is taking its toll on all of us.
But research tells us that spending quality time with your kids, especially over a meal, has long-term beneficial impacts on their life, their health and their emotional well-being. Before the pandemic struck, Valuing Our Children, a Children’s Trust family center in Athol, regularly welcomed dads and kids to our space for a home-cooked meal and time spent together. The structure of that environment allowed dads and kids to break bread together and for kids to build lasting, meaningful memories with their dads.
Why dads? We work universally with all families and parental figures at Valuing Our Children — kids need nurturing adults in their lives in all forms, but research demonstrates that male role models play an important role in the development of children. According to the U.S. Department of Education, highly involved fathers have children who are 33 percent less likely than other children to repeat a grade and are 43 percent more likely than other children to earn mostly As.
When the pandemic uprooted all sense of normalcy and we couldn’t welcome dads into the center anymore, we wanted to find a way to help dads stay connected and create fun activities to engage with their kids. Putting a home-cooked meal on the table is hard in the best of times and with growing anxiety, economic uncertainty, and unemployment on the rise, home cooked meals are helpful for all households right now.
To help fathers and kids stay engaged — and who doesn’t like a new recipe to try? — we created “Dad Bags” with all the ingredients for a home-cooked meal and an activity for the family to do together. Whether it’s taco soup and a craft, or shepherd’s pie and a book, a home-cooked meal and quality time together helps families cope, achieve and thrive, even during times of stress. It might sound like “just” ingredients and words on a page, but it’s more than that. Modeling for children how to manage stressful moments and building connection with them are the cornerstones upon which families build healthy environments for kids and set them up for long-term success.
The last 10 months have been tough, and times may get tougher, but we are proud of the commitment our dads have made to nurturing their kids during these difficult times and showing them what resiliency, strength and, of course, good cooking, look like. Happy eating!