If I told you that spending mealtime together as a family is an important way to stay connected to your children and build family strength and unity, I feel like you’d give me the answer from the Geico commercial - “Everybody Knows That!!” But, not everybody knows how to make it happen - to actually be together during a meal. Here are a few thoughts that have helped my family and others to accomplish the goal.
Do Some Planning
With family schedules as complicated as they are, it will probably take some extra planning to make family mealtimes happen. My wife and I have five children and have recently lived through coordinating schedules for four teenagers. We typically try to have one time a week (Sunday evening, for us) where we all get together for fifteen minutes and plan the next week or two. This helps us adjust dinner time in some cases so that we can all be present.
With schedules that often compete with one another, some amount of flexibility is frequently required. As I mentioned above, that might mean altering your mealtime some. If you are going to a restaurant, choose one that would be favorable for discussion or get take-out and bring the food home to your table.
Make it a Priority
Of course I put this point right after the reminder to be flexible. There will always be things that could interrupt your mealtime. Making this a priority means that anything that CAN be moved or postponed, should be - even homework! If mealtime is the bottom priority, you can be sure that it will only rarely happen. Parents, you lead the way in this. Your children will quickly learn if you’re making excuses for your priorities, but overriding theirs...
Parents, I’m talking to you too, or maybe you first!! Enough said.
Linger at the Table
In some ways, this has been the hardest part for me. The siren song of my to-do list is constantly calling me and I typically feel the urge to depart when I’m finished eating. For our family, at least, it takes a while to get the conversation going and we are often at the height of discussion at after we've finished eating. Many of the most fun and fruitful times have been after we’re done and I have to remind myself of that when I’m about to stand up and leave.
Focus on the Successes
We’re not the most disciplined and consistent family and so we have plenty of opportunities to be discouraged that we aren’t eating together. Through the years I’ve learned to place more emphasis on being thankful for the times we have shared mealtimes and some of the great conversations that we have had.
Stay in the Battle
Over the course of years, circumstances, motivation, priorities, and other things will change. Those changes will result in times where you are more or less successful. We’ve found it helpful to measure ourselves not by the current success rate, but ask ourselves if we’re still fighting and haven’t given up. If you stay in the battle, there will be times of fruitfulness and you will see the collective benefit for you and your kids.
I hope you’ve benefited some from these thoughts on the how of shared mealtimes. In the next post, I’ll focus on the what, or at least some of the “whats” that our family has found beneficial.