Making The Most of Family Dinners
You've fought the calendar, set the table, rustled up some food, and wrangled everyone around the dinner table.Now what?
I don't know about you, but for me the corralling process is so consuming, I plop down at the table without much of a "connection" strategy. To be candid, my strategy for getting vegetables eaten is more highly developed than my plan for engaging in a family dialog.
Fortunately, my husband is ALL about strategy, and he usually shows up with a plan. (This is not the only time I ride his parenting coattails!)
He sees dinner as a window to learn about each other, share struggles AND wisdom from our day. Dinner is our primary time to process how they will feel when friends let them down or when they fail to achieve something they are striving for. We talk about who "bugs" us and how to show grace, even when it's difficult. No topic is off-limits.
In a similar way, as parents this is our window to tell the kids about our struggles during the day and things that are challenging us. We talk about things that are making us sad or where we are excited.
We practice listening to each other's stories, and, in the process, we learn together.
While this is a noble goal, the reality is kind of messy. I Our kids don't show up chatty or with large, expectant faces saying, "teach me." Mostly we they show up tired and slightly hangry. So how do you start engaging dinner chats?
While there are plenty of paths to build engagement, we primarily use three favorite routes:
In a previous post (here) I explained the practical reasons families should pray together. On a typical night Billy picks something we should pray for (someone who is sad, something we need help with, something we are grateful for, etc.) and then we go around the table taking turns praying. Most of the time we learn something new about each other. We learn where we feel burdened, or excited, or tired and that leads to meaningful conversations.
If you don't do this on a regular basis, you will be surprised how much bonding happens when you practice family prayer.
Establish Discussion Traditions
Of course, if the enthusiasm for chatting wanes, don't feel like you have to create something new every night.
We have our traditional "defaults" for starting the dialog. We play the compliment game or talk through our Highs/Lows of the day. Sometimes we'll use a prefabricated tool like Story Cubes or Table Topics (sample pictured) to jumpstart the discussion. Inevitably, these practices bring up touch points where we can talk through sticky situations with our kids.
The most "disciplined" dinner habit we have (besides showing up!) is how we linger around the table after the meal is finished. It's tempting to start cleaning and jumping into the evening routine, but we work hard to stay seated. For more creative nights, we'll use the Family Yearbook to draw or tell a story (pictured below). Sometimes we chill out and watch funny videos together on the iPad. The idea is proximity; that being next to each other creates opportunities for connection. I know I'm barely scratching the surface of this topic, so I'm curious. What do you do to make the most of your family time?