It is a scene evoking thoughts of an idyllic family life many fear is being killed off by long working hours and smartphones.But new research suggests that the prospect of gathering the family around a table to share a meal is enough to bring most parents out in a cold sweat – and many would rather just relax with their children by watching television.Findings by Mintel, the consumer trends specialist, show that two thirds of British parents describe family meals as “quality time” and half think of it as a “bonding” experience. Family meals at Downton AbbeyCredit:CARNIVAL FILMS/ITV But any bonding might, it seems, have more to do with adversity as not even a quarter of parents (23 per cent) said they think of dining together with the family as relaxing.By contrast more than six in 10 (62 per cent) chose watching television together as form of family relaxation and almost half (47 per cent) of mothers surveyed agreed that it was an activity which brings their whole family together.The findings challenge the once common argument that television threatens family life by discouraging parents and children from spending “quality” time together. They echo remarks last Christmas by the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, who argued strongly for the merits of festive television as a “shared experience” for families. Overall 79 per cent of those polled said the female partner in their household handled household chores on a typical weekday compared with only 36 per cent citing the male partner. But when it came to spending time with children the proportions were 48 per cent and 33 per cent. Richard Cope, Senior Trends Consultant at Mintel, said: “Today’s parents are more attentive, but feel time starved and more distant than past generations.”While eating dinner together as a family is seen as being ‘quality time’ and a bonding experience, so too is watching television, but where it comes top is in helping families relax – relaxation is something that almost two thirds of respondent associate with TV viewing.” While eating dinner together as a family is seen as being ‘quality time’ and a bonding experience, so too is watching television, but where it comes top is in helping families relaxRichard Cope, Mintel The research, presented at ITV’s “Family Planning” conference in Leeds also shows that while women still shoulder the burden when it comes to housework, men are gradually narrowing the gap when it comes to childcare and reading bedtime stories. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.