As we try to interpret many of the problems occurring in society today, I often read that people feel that we have taken God out of society and therefore we are losing control of our morals and specifically our youth. Since there are so many different religions and beliefs and I am not one to decide who is right about the issue of which religion is correct, I think one thing we all have in common and can relate to is the slipping of the family in today’s hectic world. When I was a child, no matter what activities we had or how busy life became, we made sure to sit down to a family dinner. If the house phone rang, we didn’t answer it. We didn’t even have an answering machine for the caller to leave a message. My parents figured that if it was important that person would call back. Most people wouldn’t even call between 6:00-7:00 p.m. assuming that dinner was being served. At those family dinners, we all would share our best and worst thing of the day and help each other through our complicated issues. With the different opinions and different ages at the table, we learned a great deal about on e another and our relationships strengthened. To this day, I am incredibly close to my brother and sister and I think that closeness began at the dinner table. My parents divorced when I was 11, but my Mom kept up the tradition of the family dinner and we still get together often for dinner even though our family has now become quite large.
Many parenting sites today actually speak out against the family dinner and lessen the importance of this every sacred time together. One popular blog site recently stated that “our kids are set up to want to be at table whether they are eating or not; there is no pressure to stay seated, eat stuff they do not like, or continue to eat when they are not hungry. They are welcome to come and go as they please (or not come at all)”. The writer further goes on to say that “we do not require our children to sit at the dinner table with us, though most often they choose to. Sometimes they watch a Youtube video while at the table, and we ask them to turn down the volume. Sometimes they read a book, and we remind them not to knock over their water.” As this type of thinking becomes the norm, the break-down of the family slowly emerges. First, parents have no structure for the family meal and it is a come and go as you choose affair. We have all seen children that won’t sit still at restaurants and bother other patrons as they roam about the restaurant and crawl under tables. I would imagine that this behavior is a direct result of not being asked to sit down until all of the family is done eating or being free to roam while dinner is served at home. Dinner does not have to be an hour long event and most children can handle sitting for awhile.
Our children look forward to dinner together and everyone helps get the table ready and also helps clean up after we eat. What occurs in the middle is almost magical. In addition to covering our best things and worst things, we also take turns coming up with the “Question of the Day”. This can be something as simple as what is your favorite color to what planet would you live on if you could live on any planet and why. When our oldest moved out, he was sorely missed and still is at the family dinner table. It is a huge treat for all of us when he is there. We have never allowed electronic devices at the table because it prevents real conversations from occurring and that is why we are there. Our children eat what is served and we offer several side options so that everyone has something they like. We do not make separate main courses to appease everyone and have never needed to since our children ate all types of foods from a very young age.
The newer philosophies on parenting argue that if you force your children to eat with you that your children will become angry, frustrated and disconnected. We have never had to force our children to eat with us. They are excited about dinner as they know it is a time to take a much needed break from the beeping and buzzing of their phones and just relax and have fun. Some of our best memories come from funny things said at the table and it is the best time of the day for all of us. We will wait and eat late to let sports finish up or sometimes eat really early to make sure everyone is there. Our 1 year old son is getting the idea of the fun and laughs and babbles through dinner with all of us. He already sits patiently as we eat since he sees that everyone is doing the same thing.
I encourage families not to give up on family dinners. It is a time to bond, connect, laugh, communicate, and genuinely show love and appreciation for one another. Even in the summer, we do our best to get everyone together as much as we possibly can. Dinner can be that one simple stable thing helps them transition from school to summer and back to school again as it one constant that they can count on. If your children can’t sit with you without an electronic device, it is not a family dinner at all. It is simply a family gathered in silence as everyone is distracted by something else. I have seen this even in restaurants as parents and kids alike are plugged in and ignoring one another. I often wonder why they would want to pay a bill for a dinner out like that which should be such a special treat. It might take a small amount of work when your children are young to have them sit and eat dinner for awhile. Stick with it. It is so worth the end result and your children will come back when they are older to enjoy those special moments together.