Family Dinner: What to Bring

The evidence is quite conclusive.  Family dinner is a good idea.  It is not easy to make it happen but we know we should.   My house is wild with after school activities.  But even in the mayhem of four children in several directions, family dinner happens.  It is not always the perfect picture of a family, at home, around a dining room table, laden with delicious food.  Sometimes it is just me, with some of my kids, sharing a pizza at a table in a hockey rink.  But regardless of the venue, there are a few things to bring to a family dinner to make the experience worthwhile for everyone.

Communication:  Pretty obvious.  Check in on the day.  Let everyone be heard – even the very littlest family members.  Make it a game.  We sometimes play Butterflies and Bees at our dinner.  This game allows each person to share the best and worst parts of their day.   Everybody shares.  Talking and connecting as a family is critical.  It helps to relieve the burden of problems.  It makes people feel calm and safe.  And on good days, communication often leads to laughter.

Education:  Bring a new idea to the table to share and encourage your kids to do the same.  It could be a piece of news to discuss.  It could be a meaningful conversation on a tough topic:  drugs, discrimination, honesty, or nutrition. In parenthood, every moment is a teaching moment.  And a captive audience, at the dinner table, is a wonderful time to share new thoughts.  The art of conversation is itself an education.  It is a skill that requires listening, patience, creativity and confidence.  It needs to be practiced.  And there is no better place to practice than at family dinner.

Ideation:   Families are mini-organizations.  They have problems to solve and opportunities to create.  Use family dinner as a time to ideate.  “What can we plant in the garden?”  “How can we get one child to  lacrosse and one to soccer at exactly the same time?”  Engage your children to problem solve and innovate with you.

Celebration:  The best part of family dinner is celebrating.  Gathering together creates a forum for recognition.  The celebration can be small.  But take the time to notice the good deeds of your kids, your spouse and whoever else may be part of your family dinner.  My youngest son and I spent time on Sunday volunteering at a local lake to prepare its facilities for the summer.  We had many projects.  One of our projects was shoveling sand.   Tiring work.  But my seven year old son stuck with it until we had shoveled a huge sand pile into wheelbarrow loads for other uses.  I was the only member of our family to witness his efforts.  But at family dinner, I told the story of his hard work.  He beamed with pride.

Make time for family dinner.  Don’t worry about the menu or the venue. There are more important things to bring.