I know in my heart that it's the time we spent together as a family that has best prepared Drew to enter the world on his own. As I stare at his empty seat across the dining room table, I'm overcome with gratitude that we fought the culture and demands of our busy world to bring our family together for those precious evening hours. It wasn't easy, and the dinners weren't always fun and games. But it was those hours spent together over the years that our children learned of our unfailing love, our deep faith in God, our parental expectations. In those hours, they came to experience a deep sense of security and belonging – of knowing that although they may be far away some day, they will always be part of our home.
The importance of such moments must not be underestimated. Research gathered on the Heritage Foundation's Family Facts website reveals the many benefits our children reap when we parents give them our most valuable asset – our time. A survey by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse shows, for instance, that from age 12 to 17, the proportion of teens who have regular family dinners drops by 50 percent, while their risk of substance abuse increases sevenfold. Polling nearly 2,000 boys and girls in the United States, the center found that, "The more often teenagers have dinner with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs. In fact, compared with teens who have frequent family dinners, those who have dinner with their families only two nights per week or less are at double the risk of substance abuse."
My sons' absence is also acutely felt in the pew on Sunday. I know it is easier to find an open pew to seat four, but I would much rather be arriving at church a bit earlier to get a seat for six. But like Ms. Hagelin, I am sure that the efforts my husband and I put forth to gather all our knees under the dinner table most evenings and to attend Mass together every week provide the best preparation for our children to leave home and face the world.