Today's Busy Families Are Finding Time To Gather Around the Dinner Table

Talk to most any parent these days and they will tell you how busy they are. They have schedules that are jam-packed with work, family commitments and, most importantly, parenting responsibilities.
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Alfred Binford

Talk to most any parent these days and they will tell you how busy they are. They have schedules that are jam-packed with work, family commitments and, most importantly, parenting responsibilities. But I also know that if you ask a lot of kids today about their schedules, they will tell you that they have a lot going on with school, of course, and activities such as sports, music lessons, and church and after-school groups.

My family is no different. In my new role at Pearson, I am busy with the development and distribution of our assessment and virtual learning solutions, and supporting our dedicated team of professionals who work with educators throughout North America. My wife, Jackie, is putting her undergraduate degree and master's in business administration to work as a part-time substitute teacher in Georgia. When traveling for work, I am so grateful for her shouldering much of the responsibility for managing the busy lives of our three boys--everything from shuttling them to and from basketball practice and taking them to the latest action movie sequel (that I think are way too violent) to helping with their homework projects.

In the midst of our hectic lives, we find one activity that really unites us is family dinner. In the Binford household, we make an effort for the five of us to sit down at the table together every chance we get. Whether at home, or at our favorite local restaurants, this precious time together provides us with a break from our busy lives, and time to talk, laugh (mostly at me) and re-connect.

We are not alone! According to an NBC News Parent Toolkit poll, sponsored by Pearson, families are gathering around the dinner table together more often than in previous years with nearly four in five parents surveyed (79 percent) reporting that they have dinner with their families most days of the week. Even more exciting news is that the youngest generation of parents, Millennials, reported spending more time with their families over meals than did Baby Boomer parents.

The poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates, also revealed that despite the 24/7 digital world that we are raising our children in, 51 percent of today's parents say they spend more time with their kids than their parents did with them. However--as I know all too well--these percentages are not uniform across-the-board. As you may suspect, working parents struggle with striking a balance between time at home and time away. Only 46 percent of working parents responding to the poll spend more time with their children than their parents did with them--for non-working parents that number is 63 percent.

Parents are also faced with a dilemma when it comes to being involved in their children's education. According to the poll, a little more than half of parents (53 percent) are satisfied with their level of involvement, but almost as many parents (47 percent) wish they could do more. And a parent's desire to be more involved in their children's education becomes even more pronounced in households with combined incomes under $30,000--60 percent wish they could be more involved.

In addition, the survey provided some interesting insights into what today's parents think about the quality of their children's educations; three-quarters of the respondents ranked the quality as excellent or good, but higher earners and white families were more likely to say "excellent," while lower earners and minority families were more likely to say "good."

My family heritage is quite diverse. I am an African American man, and my wife is part Latina and Irish. Raised by a single mom, I went to public elementary, middle and high school in the Bronx. I was fortunate to have a "very good" K-12 educational experience; teachers that went beyond normal instruction and ensured I knew going to college was essential and "accessible," as well as extracurricular programs and coaching that led to a basketball scholarship which allowed me to avoid leaving college under the burden of student loans. But I know way too many other kids in my community weren't as lucky.

It is no secret that as parents today, regardless of race, socioeconomic status or geographic location, many of us struggle with finding the perfect balance between our work, life and family. However, I think we are all united--as were our parents and grandparents--by deeply wanting our children to have access to the highest quality educational opportunities. The encouraging news is that our poll results paint an evolving picture: U.S. parents are striving to connect as a family more, are involved in their children's educations and are gathering around the dinner table any time they can.

And the Binfords are a part of that picture. Whenever we can grab a minute from our busy lives, we:

Play a game of "horse" on the court in our driveway.
Work together on math homework.
Plan our next vacation--where I am usually out-voted.
And, of course, sit down for a meal and catch up!

This blog is part of our Smart Parents Series in partnership with the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information about the project, see:

Alfred Binford is managing director, Assessment and Direct Delivery for North America. Learn more by following @PearsonNorthAm.

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