Sitting at the table and eating a meal together is a simple event rich with possibility; it offers a golden opportunity for parents to help their family reconnect.
In order for that to happen, however, it takes some purpose and planning.
Put cellphones aside, and ignore them when they ring. Turn off the TV (at the very least, turn the sound down!). Your family can live without technology for 20-30 minutes.
When your kids are little, they are usually more than willing to talk about their day, their friends, their life. But as they get older, a little prodding may be in order.
When our kids got into elementary school, we shared highs/lows. Each person would share one high point of his day and one low point. Often that would lead to more discussion and conversation. Or provide opportunities to bring up the subject at another time.
This past week my 21-year-old son started a new dinner tradition; he asked each of us to describe our day with one word. We’ve done it a few times now and it’s actually pretty fun.
My dad used to ask each one of us at the table, “Did you have any blessings or difficulties today?”
It may be fun when your kids are little, but they will most likely go through an eye-rolling period. Hang in there and keep the conversation going. A silent dinner table is about as nutritious for the soul as a plate of empty food is for the body.
The family meal time should be a time when everyone feels comfortable to be themselves and talk about any topic that comes up. Whatever you do, don’t shut your kids up if they are discussing something you may deem inappropriate (i.e. sex). When topics like that come up, you have been handed a gift. Cherish the opportunity to listen, answer, and point your kids in the right direction.
I can’t think of one topic that has come up at our dinner table that we refused to discuss. And there have been some doozies, believe me. But when we nurture an atmosphere of total acceptance, family communication–a characteristic of strong families–blossoms.
I’m a pretty big proponent of parents being silly with their kids. And the dinner table should not be a silly-free zone. I’m not saying you should have all-out food fights every night. But it’s okay to break the rules and let loose.
There have been more than a few meals that ended with a roll or piece of ice being thrown. When I was growing up, my dad used to start a balled-up napkin fight at the end of many meals.
Sure, kids get carried away. Sure, things might get a little messy. So what? Clean it up together and let the laughter and fun of the moment override the mess.
As life gets hectic–games, practices, parent meetings, concerts, recitals, birthday parties–family meal times may become rare. But they don’t have to become extinct.
Purpose each week to have at least one or two or three, or however many you can. And look for other opportunities to eat together. If breakfast works better, then make the most of that time together.
I’m telling you right now, it’s not going to get any easier as they get older. My three kids are home for the summer and I know their schedules will make family meals hard to come by. But we will have them because I am going to insist on it! It may only be once a week, but it will happen and we will continue to unplug, engage, unclench and delight around our table.