One of the most precious times we have together as a family is at the table. True enough, these times are fewer these days than they used to be, but in a way, that scarcity makes these times all the more precious. The table provides one of the only moments during the day when we, consistently, sit down together with no distractions. And around that table, we’ve talked about presidential elections and their implications, historical events, problems at school, family dynamics, and a host of other things.
It’s important. It’s one of the places where we establish the culture of our families, where we share burdens, and where we find our at a deeper level the things that are really going on in our lives. It’s true, we can do this as parents with children individually, but hopefully as we share together we are not only helping our kids relate to us as their parents, but also relate to their siblings as well.
We have been fortunate enough to stumble into this importance. There wasn’t a moment when my wife and I made the conscious choice to always set this time aside to the best of our ability; it just kind of happened that way. But over these brief years, I have noticed the difference in mealtime when I, as a dad, come with the intent to make the most of that time we have together and when I’ve just showed up to eat. Hopefully, then, these simple things will be encouraging to you as well.
1. Outlaw the word “fine.”
“Fine” is a throwaway word. It really doesn’t mean anything. So we have a rule at the table that we don’t use this word. We have to come up with some other answer to the question of “how was your day?” Our kids seem to have caught onto this – we don’t usually have to press on this very much. Still, I think we probably will more and more as we continue into the teenage years.
2. Be creative around the table.
We have played a lot of games at dinner over the years, but they always have the purpose of sharing something meaningful that happened that day. Sometimes we play “Two Truths and a Lie”, where the kids have to tell us two things that didn’t happen, and one thing that actually did. We also play a game where everyone has to share three things: Something you saw, something you ate, something you felt. Of course, you can replace those three things with others. But we’ve found it helps to do it this way instead of just asking, “How was your day?”
3. Wait, and then wait again.
We have tried to enforce the practice that no one starts eating until everyone else is already sitting at the table. Similarly, the kids have to ask permission to leave the table. This is for more than just politeness, though – it’s to try and make the most of our time together. And, at the end of the meal, to hopefully not short circuit a conversation that’s going just because someone is done with their spaghetti.
4. Remember what you’ve prayed for.
Most mornings at breakfast, we pray with and for each other for things that are going to happen during the day. On the days when we, as parents, remember what we prayed for that morning, dinner provides an opportunity for us to ask specifically about how the Lord was faithful to listen to and answer those prayers.
It’s certainly not perfect, and it certainly isn’t a foolproof plan. But the more times we as parents have actively engaged in practices like this, the more fruitful those times have been. Maybe, by God’s grace, dinner with the family will actually continue to be something and somewhere our children look forward to being. And not just for the chicken pot pie.