The Family that Eats Together

tableGrowing up, we always ate dinner together as a family. Before you tell me your family has too much going on, know that I am one of four children, and all of us had our own extra curricular activities, including but not limited to piano, cheerleading, competitive gymnastics, and club swim team. Trust me, we were busy. However, my parents were sticklers for the family dinner. We ate together pretty much every night, varying times to fit our schedules. Each night we sat down with the same meal on all our plates, the television off, and the “no answering the phone during dinner” rule in effect.

Around the dinner table we talked about our days, current events, extended family news, and pretty much anything else. We laughed. A lot. Occasionally, one of us sat in stony silence because we didn’t want to be there. If someone wasn’t hungry, he or she was still expected to be at the table while we ate. Overall, dinner was enjoyable and it helped our family stay connected.

Like most families in 2016, our days are scattered.  My kids are still young, so our schedules are simpler than many families with older children in multiple activities, but we still spend much of our days separate from one another. Even when I’m with my kids all afternoon, they’re playing and I’m doing other things while I supervise (and occasionally joining the fun). However, dinner time is different. It’s special. It’s more:

Time to Focus: Everyone sitting down together as a family gives us the opportunity to focus on each other without distractions. Mommy isn’t making lunches or cutting out shapes for a lesson. Daddy isn’t responding to an email or on a call. The kids aren’t running in circles or attempting to build the tallest Lego tower. We sit down, take a breath, talk, and listen.

Time to Talk: The art of conversation is quickly going out of practice. It’s easier to text than talk most of the time. But during dinner, we don’t do that. We talk to each other. After prayers, the first thing my three year old says is, “Let’s say our favorite things!” We all take turns telling a high point and then a low point of our day. This exercise helps my kids learn to be thoughtful and remember what they did on any given day while teaching everyone about different perspectives. It also jump-starts the conversation and helps us enjoy one another’s company. While most of our conversations are at a preschool level, I know that the habits we develop now can mature and grow into five grown-up individuals who enjoy breaking bread together.

Time to Eat: Eating dinner as a family helps us model healthy eating habits and set standards for our kids. They don’t have to eat everything on their plate, but they won’t get anything different either. We like to eat dessert afterwards (normally something kids and I have baked together). It’s fun to share a treat together, teaching about moderation. My kids eat WAY better if we all sit down together than they do if they are sitting on their own. They attend to their food and don’t get so distracted.

Time to Be Polite: Table manners are rough to teach if you don’t sit down at the table much. Learning to sit (oh please, please, sit on your pockets and DO NOT GET UP), use your napkin, use your fork, chew with your mouth closed, etc. is so so important for kids. Practice makes perfect (ha), and we practice each time we sit down. Maybe in 20 years we’ll achieve perfection.

Time to Set the StageDinnertime for us actually sets us up for the rest of our night. When we start with dinner together, it’s natural for us to share responsibility for cleaning up. After we go straight into getting ready for the next day, sharing a story or playing a game, and then going to bed. The kids are more calm because they connected with us about their day. Jamal and I are more in sync after sitting down together and taking a breath. Shared dinners smooth the way to somewhat peaceful evenings (because we aren’t the Tanners, folks).

We all have to eat. It’s just one of those facts of life. Eating together turns that unavoidable delay into something more. It gives back, giving us the gift of time together. I hope that one day our kids will look back on eating dinner as a family and think it was important enough for them to recreate.

Emily H
Although born in Austin, Emily grew up on the Eastside of Fort Worth. After marrying her high school sweetheart, and following the military's whims for a few years, the lovebirds wound up back in the Fort, with their three children in tow. Currently, Emily shares her love of books and writing with both her children and her middle school students. On the weekends, you'll find her outside running local streets and trails, as well as being her kids' biggest fan at whatever sport may be in season.

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