Do your children know what you do?

The wizards have determined that an important monitor for the eventual success of your children is … drum roll please … whether or not the family eats dinner together. How prosaic. At first glance, this seems counterintuitive. What about private school, tutoring, soccer camp, circumnavigating the earth solo?

Those activities all pale against the family values that are shared, whether you know it or not, at the dinner table.

“How was your day?”

“Not so good.”


“Problem patient, wasn’t sure what to do.”

Believe it or not, little ears are listening and are assembling a worldview and a value set that they will apply to their own issues. Let them hear “case reports” in a neutral, non-stressful setting. As an added benefit, you get to decompress before a sympathetic audience.

When our son was five years old, he invited me to come to his kindergarten class to make a presentation for one of their “What do your parents do at work” days. I accepted instantly and then put considerable thought into it.

To demonstrate my life as a hand surgeon, I swiped a paper cap, gown, booties, and mask from the OR. From my office, I collected my loupes, grip and pinch meters, and a skeleton model of the upper limb along with a roll each of cast padding and plaster. I even brought a couple of leeches.

In my surgical scrubs and paper accessories, the kids looked at me as if I were a rock star — rapt attention. When I asked for a volunteer to demonstrate casting technique, I looked at my son. A frown and a side-to-side head shake told me to move on.

My eyes fell on James (not his real name). Our families knew each other in passing, and James’ father was an orthopedic surgeon. James shot his hand into the air, and I applied several layers of cast padding followed by a light plaster cast. After all of the children had a chance to feel the cast warm-up and solidify, I cut it off with bandage scissors and completed the session. It went well.

The next morning, however, the phone rang, and my wife answered. It was James’s mother. “I guess you know that Roy visited our sons’ class yesterday.” My wife took a deep breath and silently prepared for some accusation or complaint. Instead: “James at dinner last night would not stop talking about his great day at school. ‘A bone doctor came and showed us all sorts of cool stuff. He even put a cast on my arm.’”

While James continued to expound enthusiastically, his father sank farther and farther into his chair. The chin of this tall man, according to his wife, was approaching table top level. Finally, he sighed, looked at James, and said, “James, this is what I do too.”

Have dinner with your children. Talk about what when well and poorly that day. Talk about anything. They may not say a word, but they are absorbing it all, a prelude to their success.

Roy A. Meals is an orthopedic surgeon who blogs at About Bone

Image credit: Roy A. Meals,

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