Time at the kitchen table is invaluable to a family. It is a place that we share meals, play games, do puzzles, and have some of the best conversations possible. According to a recent survey, 34% of Americans eat dinner together as a family nearly every night. Dinner at the family table is a prime time for adults, children, and friends to connect. However, in order for this time to be effective, it must be intentional.
In order for an intentional family mealtime to be successful, parents must set some dinner time standards and expectations. To provide a distraction-free environment that enables everyone to focus on the family environment around the table, the family needs to turn the television off, leave phones and electronics on vibrate and out of reach, shut the computer down, and keep all toys away from the table. If your house is like ours, this might be the only time for everyone to connect. After dinner there is homework to be done, lunches to be made, school day prep, and the normal bedtime routine. We have to take advantage of the opportunities that are available, and create the optimal environment during that time.
In my own home, we typically share our “highs and lows” during family dinner time. Some call these “roses and thorns”. This is a time that each person shares their highest and lowest point of the day. When it is their turn to speak everyone else can eat and listen. When the speaker finishes sharing, the rest of the family is free to ask that person questions about their high and low. This is a great opportunity to gain context for a person’s demeanor or behavior at the end of a day as you might hear of a painfully low experience or an incredibly high experience. Either can explain why someone is super excited or drastically low. As parents, we sometimes gain information here that allows us to have private conversations with a son or daughter later in the evening.
There are times that the food has been eaten but not everyone has had a chance to share. We sit and wait until everyone has shared about their day. Sharing is part of our intentional time. There are also nights when sharing “highs and lows” moves pretty fast – and we let it! On occasion we have a night when everyone stays at the table for a while laughing, talking, and enjoying each other’s company. We savor these times as they seem few and far between inside our young and growing family. When you have those moments, sit back and enjoy it!
If the picturesque scene of children laughing around the dinner table while the adults hold hands and listen to the joyful bliss of their children sharing is a dream you are snapped out of by flying applesauce, children screaming, and teenagers holding their faces in their hands…take heart. Intentional family time is exactly that – intentional. Is it picturesque every time? Absolutely not. However, if we do not set aside time for the opportunity of connecting, sharing, and being heard, there is no chance for that dream to come true.
Getting started can be the hardest part. Having the energy to simply get to the table together can be difficult. Success can happen if you set standards for table time and expect everyone to attend and share. If intentional time at the table is a huge leap for your family, start with one night a week. Be encouraged to “jump in,” even if you are short a family member or two on specific evenings. If you do not take time to connect with your children now, it is not going to get any easier later. It is never too late to start – even if you are a parent of adult children. Don’t be scared to include guests either. We had friends over last week that know our mealtime tradition and were excited to be a part of it. We are all learning to love well, and it does not happen by accident. Be intentional and use what is at your fingertips. Everyone has to eat sometime!