THE OPINION: Family Dinner is a powerful vehicle that strengthens families and enhances a discussion of any subject matter.

THE HYPOTHESIS: Family Dinner can not only enhance a discussion of estate planning (money and death), but it can also serve to strengthen the entire estate planning process.

THE RESEARCHER:  An Oak Park parent and attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the benefits of family dinner and the value of possessing an estate plan. 

THE METHOD:  Four essays of analysis (once a month).



We parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends and neighbors all want the same thing when it comes to the young people in our lives.  We want them to be happy!  We want them to follow their dreams and hope they find love and friendship along the way.  


Family happiness is also the reason most people create an estate plan.  In an estate plan we create documents that try to bestow on our family and friends, particularly to the next generation, the happiness and success we experienced in our lives.  Happy children create harmony in estate planning.


Young people’s happiness sprouts from a childhood that includes connection to family and community, consistency in sleep and meal time (family dinner), the opportunity for responsibility and the ability to experience success and failure.  Not surprisingly, studies reveal that happy parents have happy children. 


Life can be tiring and overwhelming, particularly when it comes to parenting.  Sometimes it feels like we are making one parenting mistake after another.  We are great cheerleaders for our children, but we can be harsh critics of ourselves.  This internal criticism makes it hard to exhibit happiness to the young people in our lives.  Consequently, at times we feel we are failing our young people. 


We are not!  Our success as parents or mentors is still present, we just need to solve the problem that is blocking the view.  Our happiness and parental affirmation are sometimes just dependent on our perception.


For me, my parenting success blinders attached right after Mike’s heart attack.  I focused on what foolish and irresponsible parents we were not to have at least a will in place to protect our kids and lighten the burden on our family.  Once Mike’s health improved and we signed our estate plan, I stopped feeling irresponsible. 


I was able to remind myself of the successes we had achieved as parents.  Our parenting successes were there all along; it was just harder to appreciate them when I was focusing so much on our  failures.  Should we have drafted a will long ago?  Absolutely!  But I cannot change the past.  So, I am choosing to focus on what I can change (we now have an estate plan) and then cheer for us when we get something right.


When it comes to family dinner it seemed like we got that right.  Family dinner always brought me happiness, I just assumed the kids liked it as well.  Would I ever really know?  The answer came in the form of an essay.  A few years ago, our son Paul wrote a college essay describing a place in which he was perfectly content.  Paul wrote about family dinner - 667 words of parental affirmation!!  If you still need a reason to place family dinner as a priority, read this 18-year old’s perspective.


If the family is one of nature’s masterpieces, then family dinner is that masterpiece’s perfect frame. It simultaneously showcases and protects a family. Family dinner is a time when I can unwind and slip away from the troubles that have caused me stress throughout the day. Our dining room is always perfectly lit with the classic ambiance of an open flame allowing my family to focus in on the conversation at hand. It is the place where I receive support and encouragement to work hard and to be the best person I can be.

I did not always appreciate our family dinner. When I was younger and more selfish, I was not interested in spending that much time with my family. Now, I understand that my family is the cornerstone to my success, and family dinner is the cornerstone to my family’s success. Family dinner creates a sense of community and stability. Even if everything in my life seems to be crumbling to pieces, I know that mahogany table set for dinner will stand tall among the rubble. I can always look forward to a beautifully prepared meal filled with laughter and conversation to glue me back together.

One of the best aspects of our family dinner is that it has morphed over time. It has seamlessly aged with the rest of my family. At first, dinner would last ten minutes. Conversation topics changed quicker than lightning could strike. It started with “how was your day?” and ended with “where is your shirt?” My parents struggled to control four children under the age of 6. The combined attention span of us kids was less than a nanosecond. None of us kids knew what we truly needed but we certainly knew what we liked. The room would echo with screams for dessert, television and story time. Inevitably a glass or two of milk would be spilled. Afterwards my dad worked to clean off all our faces and my mom struggled to clean the dishes. We were a messy bunch, wearing each meal’s color on our faces.

As my brothers, sister, and I began to enter the tween and teenage years, the intensity of conversation was amped up by agreement and debate from across the table. Fights at a Clancy family dinner are unique because my mother is an attorney and my father is a judge. Pulling hair and throwing food was not tolerated, so we kids learned to use our words as weapons and as shields. My parents reinforced the notion that a well-placed adjective is just as powerful as a sucker punch. Synonyms of stupid and annoying were as plentiful as the creamy mashed potatoes, yet my parents always managed to exhibit a sense of control over dinner.

Groundings were handed out not only for bad behavior, but also for taboo language. Although the weekend of a 12-14-year-old is nothing incredibly enticing, the reactions of a Saturday night quarantine rivaled those of capital punishment. However, by the end of dinner, tensions would usually fall, and most problems could be soothed with some ice cream and words of wisdom.

Now with three kids in high school, a seven o’clock dinner time is hard to come by. However, everyone makes sacrifices to be present. I find that once I sit down, I no longer want to leave. Family dinner creates this fulfilling energy that I cannot find anywhere else. I always leave that mahogany dining table feeling happier than when I sat down.

Family dinner has helped make me the young man I am today. It has taught me the importance of listening, but it has also showed me how to make my point heard. I have become more loyal, responsible, and accountable. Most importantly, I have created a unique bond with my family that will not be broken. Lee Iacocca summed it up best stating, “The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family.” I could not agree more.

Thanks Paul Clancy!!