I had a beautiful childhood. I played in muddle puddles with my brother. Ran merrily around my big back yard with the family dog. Had giggly “slumber parties” with my sister. And at the end of a day, no matter what had happened or how sassy I had been, I had a mom and dad that told me that they loved me. I have so many fond memories of time spent with my family from my childhood. Laughter. Deep conversations. Words of support and encouragement through those inevitably frustrating moments of youth. Togetherness. And so much of it happened in one place….one special yet simple place. Around the dining room table.
The world people are raising their families in today is, without a doubt, very different than the world of a few generations ago. Gone are the images of a parent or grandparent ringing the dinner bell outside of a farm house, hollering “come and get it!” and a family gathering around a giant table to reflect on their day and share a meal. Now, the new norm is families being divided at dinner time by work schedules or carting children off to extracurricular activities. Our lives keep getting busier and busier and it seems that we have less and less time to focus on the home front. And less time to eat together as a family around that lovely table collecting dust in our dining room.
But why? What really happens when a family eats together that is so important? Other than eating, of course.
1) Communication…and communication skills. In a world where so many people text and email as a major form of communication, the simple art of conversation is starting to disappear. And it is an art. We all had learned how to talk to another person and then attentively listen to them in return. To have a back-and-forth conversation without interrupting. This is not a skill we are born with. It’s something we learned from others, likely whoever had a major hand in raising us. And now it’s your turn to pass on those skills! The dinner table is a natural place to teach your children about how to have a real face-to-face conversation with a person…and to model them yourself. Ask your children how their day was. What their favorite part of the day was and what was their least favorite part? Not only will they learn how to hold a conversation but you will start to understand your child in deeper ways and feel more in tune to their lives. Humans are social creatures (hence why social media is so successful) and we long to connect with others. So connect at the dinner table over your favorite meal!
2) Manners. Children aren’t born knowing what good manners are. They must be taught the importance of “please” and “thank you” and why burping loudly at the table is not nearly as funny to everyone as it is to them (okay, it’s a little funny, but not every meal and certainly not in every situation). When you sit at the table and ask Junior to “please pass the carrots”, you are role modeling what appropriate table manners look like. No need to criticize when they forget to say excuse me after burping, just simply continue to role model meal time etiquette and the kiddos will usually catch on soon enough. Plus, it’s amazing how many adults have forgotten how important manners are. Make a point of practicing your own “please” and “thank you” for your sake and Junior’s.
3) Role modeling good nutrition. Dinner scene: You put the delicious roasted broccoli in front of Junior and he instantly shrieks “ew I don’t like that” and turns away in disgust before the plate even finishes hitting the table. Kids are notorious for resisting new, unfamiliar foods and I think I can see every parent out there nodding their heads in unison, as it is a story every mom or dad knows all too well. However, fear not! You have that dining room table! The dining room table is the perfect place to show them why they should be open to all those glorious new and healthy foods! Eat that roasted broccoli. Love that roasted broccoli. Moan and groan about how delicious it is (do it even if you have to fake it a little). Maybe even talk about what that broccoli is going to do for your body! You kiddos are watching everything (and I do mean everything) that you do, so make sure you are showing them what it means to eat a nourishing and balanced diet. Plus, all that role modeling will remind you to be open to new foods yourself.
Guys, I know life is nuts. Everyone needs 12 more hours in their day. And, no, I don’t know how to shift the planet to get those 12 extra hours and I also don’t know where to start changing the craziness that is life any more than you do. All I know is this: life is short and kids only stay little for so long. There will never be enough money or time or really anything. But, gathering together, at least a few times a week, as a family and sharing a meal sans cellphones, televisions, or other distractions is such a valuable tradition to bring to your household. Every day can feel like Thanksgiving. Every meal can be an opportunity to get to know your family, the most important people in you life, a little better. Every meal can be be a chance to educate your children (and even learn from them, as well). So eat together as a family….and see how it brings you closer to one another.