Growing up, even with six kids, our family STILL managed to eat dinner together each night. Eating dinner together as a child left such an imprint on me that I made sure I found a long-azz, 132” French Country table for my cottage to ensure that everybody – those six kids, plus spouses and kids – could fit around it. This was crucial to me.
These days “meals” can resort to packaged food thrown to open hands for catching and stuffing into mouths before the next practice, meeting, or rehearsal. Believe me, there is no side eye at y’all modern-day families who are making this stuff werk! I commend you because I’ve been there. As a single mom, KC was doing good to sometimes get a hot meal made at home, let alone us to sitting together at the table to eat it. Even today, I have a hard enough time getting my husband to SIT DOWN and eat together like we’re a family even though it’s just the two of us at home now. He is all about standing up at the counter and moving on to the next part of the evening. I am not!
There is undeniably something important that comes from this special time when a family can be together as one unit. Where you look at and talk to one another in a communal setting that allows you to download and upload information—thoughts and feelings about the people you live with and love. And research backs me up. The Washington Post says:
“In most industrialized countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments, or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other. In a survey, American teens were asked when they were most likely to talk with their parents: dinner was their top answer. Kids who eat dinner with their parents experience less stress and have a better relationship with them. This daily mealtime connection is like a seat belt for traveling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence and all its possible risky behaviors.”
Don’t you just love that analogy? “[L]ike a seat belt for traveling the potholed road of childhood and adolescence”!
Here’s the thing … sitting down to dinner is a ritual. Ritual binds us together. And most of you who have your kids on a strict bedtime regimen know that kids appreciate ritual and schedules. My nephew used to live with us, and he recently told me that what he misses most is when we were all home eating dinner and we would go around the table and say what happened to us that day that was good. He’s nine.
So the question becomes, how can you work this ritual into your family life? Here are a few tips and tricks:
- If dinnertime is out of the question due to everyone’s work and extracurriculars, what about breakfast? I know mornings can be uber hectic. But what if things could change, and they weren’t? Wake everyone up a few minutes earlier (I know … stop throwing things at me … I’m only trying to help!) Just thirty dedicated, wholesome minutes can go a long way and serve as a faux dinnertime but in reverse. Instead of sharing what happened during your day, share what you hope to accomplish instead. Or for kids, what they are looking forward to that day. Even if it’s getting out of school!
- Try setting new rules, such as everyone needs to be home from 6pm-8pm or 5pm-7pm. My friend grew up that way. When after-school sports were done, kids knew they had to rush home and be at the dinner table, and the parents had to rush from work to be there as well. Umm hmm, I said it. Get yo’ butts HOME! (Then go back to work if you have to.)
- Make dinnertime a no-device zone. Whew! This here is a hard one. The kids will kick and scream. YOU may even kick and scream, but an hour without your boss’s email or the kids’ Snapchat isn’t going to kill any of you. And eventually the withdrawal pains will cease.
- Another option is Sunday dinner. If the week doesn’t work, try carving time out on Sunday that is sacred to the family and untouchable. I still don’t know how my mom did it with six kids, but she made sure we had weekly dinners together as well as Sunday dinners after we’d all gone to church and visited my grandparents. I have no idea where she found all those hours in a day, but I sure admire her for it.
- If you commute and your kids have sports and life is just, well, too complicated to fit in dinner at the table, exercise your options. If this sacred time has to be dinner in the car, then so be it. Take the time to pull over, stop the car, and eat. Together! Be present—phones down—and listen to one another, and use this time to strengthen the family.
The point is – you have to find what works best for you and your family. Not someone else’s. But read that Washington Post article. There really isn’t a great substitute for spending time with your kids at the dinner table.
And as a sidebar – use this time for nixing those awful mealtime bad habits like smacking, talking with your mouth full, and elbows on the table. I am amazed at the number of adults I come across who talk with their mouths open and SMACK! Eeeww!! When I’m eating at black tie affairs, I can always tell who has good home training. People who just dive in before the waiter has served everyone at the table – NOT! Teaching kids good table manners not only will help them when they go to sleepovers, but much later too when they’re invited to lunch interviews and business dinners with clients. (Why do you think some interviews happen over meals?) Give your kids an early start by teaching impeccable table manners.
Now, let me go see if I can coax my husband into dinner around the table tonight! You wish me luck, and I wish you the same!