Q: It seems like dinner is about the only time that our whole family is in one place at the same time. How can we get the most out of our family meal times?
A: Meals are ideal times for socializing, conversation, and celebration. They can and should be an occasion for sharing the day’s events, decompressing, commiserating, and encouraging one another. It’s a time to laugh, learn how to speak and listen politely, establish one’s identity as a member of the family, and even welcome guests.
Realistically, this is an art, not a science. The key is to strike the proper balance; i.e., don’t adopt such a rigidly “intentional” approach that you squelch spontaneity. You can use games, stories, questions, books, articles, and jokes to get some productive table talk going. Try going around the table and asking each family member to share a personal goal. This can also be a good time to talk about healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime. The possibilities are almost endless.
Ideally, the family table should be characterised by warmth, respect, safety, and mutual support. It should be a place where everybody is genuinely interested in what everybody else has to say. That starts with Mum and Dad. If no one seems to have much to say, try stirring the pot with a few open-ended questions, such as, “What was the highlight of your day?” or “What didn’t go well today?”
Whatever you do, we would strongly suggest that televisions and phones be turned off before the family gathers. Your physical presence around the table won’t accomplish anything if your minds are somewhere else. This is a time to talk to one another unhindered by electronic distractions. The whole point is to connect in meaningful ways and get to know each other better.
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