Few of us remember the days when a family sat down to dinner together. It was even a leisurely affair, marked by laughter, sharing of the day’s events, and mostly void of interruptions. Kids and parents stayed at the table until everyone was dismissed. It was a time of re-connecting.
Today this sounds more like a scene from an old movie or TV show. Family meals have been replaced by car pools, late arrivals, spouses that don’t come home for dinner, kids that rush from the table to something more “urgent,” and the presence of phones that just “have” to be monitored at all times.
There are too many good options for us in how to spend our time. Sadly, these can easily replace an even better tradition.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of overbooking our families with good choices. However, as parents, our job is to take the long-term view. We have to ask the question, In the long run what is going to matter more?
Is it crucial to sign our child up for one more activity where he might win one more trophy? Or would it be more valuable to have family meals several times a week in order to build family friendships? In the long run, do we want to collect trophies that will one day gather dust on the closet shelf or do we want to build friendships among siblings that will last a lifetime?
These are hard choices and you will not be a popular parent when you have to set limits. It will be a challenge for you as a parent, too. We have to agree to set aside our work and plan to be home for family dinner on designated nights during the week. It will be inconvenient for everyone and may take some getting used to, but the long-term payoff will be huge.
Here are some suggestions for getting started:
1. Determine together with your spouse that you will do this and what night you will have a family meal.
Don’t expect your kids to be thrilled, especially if they are teens. Just do it! If you begin this with young children it will make it much easier in the later years.
2. Turn the TV off and leave phones in another room.
This goes for parents too. Building family relationships is more important than monitoring your texts and social media. That can wait.
3. Make the dinner special and fun.
With small kids decorate place mats. Have kids help prepare the meal. Have a basket of questions to ask, like “What was your favorite thing that happened today?” or ”Who is someone you admire and why?” Think of age-appropriate questions that call for more than a one word answer.
You will need to turn down other invitations. It will take time for everyone to realize this night or nights are sacred. Simply persist and think long-term. You might not see the benefit until your college freshman calls and says “I’m coming home this weekend to see my friends. I want to go out with them but could we have a family dinner first?”