How many nights a week does your family sit down to dinner together?
When I was growing up, almost everyone I knew had dinner around the table as a family. We thought it strange that one of my sister’s friends always had “pick up” for dinner, meaning you just picked up something from the refrigerator and ate when you got hungry. That was not the norm. Times have changed and the pace of our society is crowding out some of the most important family times…including dinnertime. What has happened in our culture to completely devalue the dinner hour? More importantly, how can we take it back?
I lead a Parent Book Club at my school and we just finished reading and discussing The Surprising Power of Family Meals by Miriam Weinstein. If eating together as a family is a ritual you would like to instill in your children, or if you want to strengthen that time, I definitely recommend this book. I would also suggest that if you don’t value dinnertime together, you may want to see what you are missing! Weinstein discusses a wide range of influences you can have over your children through the simple activity of eating together. Many of the parents in the book club could describe aspects of family meals that were important to them as children, while others didn’t have those memories…making mealtime rituals that much more important for them now that they have their own families.
My husband and I do not have children yet, but we are trying very hard to protect dinnertime as a time for us to share what happened in our day and to really listen to one another without distractions. Sometimes we have meetings or other activities that interfere, but when we can be home together for dinner, we do it. Sometimes I cook, we eat leftovers, and occasionally we eat take out, sitting at our kitchen table. In her book, Weinstein talks about the importance of facing one another during a meal and learning about the give and take of conversation and the fellowship of sitting around a table together. What you eat is not as important as the interactions. On page 242, she also states: “the subject is actually family–establishing, enjoying and maintaining ties. The goal is creating and reinforcing a secure place for your loved ones in a society that can seem awfully uninterested in human needs.”
While we cannot completely recreate a family scenario, our school “family” tries to model this as well. We sit in family-style groups with a teacher at each table to model manners, appropriate conversation, etc. This is one of my favorite times of the day because I get to listen to the children discuss topics of great interest to them…the most recent sleepover, a favorite chapter book being read at bedtime, a new stuffed animal, or even a debate over the best Halloween costume ideas. I ask questions to help guide the conversation at times, but I often listen until the children bring me into the discussion with a question of their own. We make sure that each child is given opportunities to speak and really be heard. These types of interactions cannot occur while eating drive-through in the car or when you are rushed to get to the next activity of the day. They require time and attention…
So, I would love to know about your family time around the table. Post a comment with some ideas or just let me know what you think. Below are also a couple of other books about family rituals that you may want to check out.