Of all the traditions that I’ve tried to create for my family, eating dinner together every night might be the most important. In our crazy, hurried world, this is one of my best “balancing the busy” tactics. I’m not sure if it began consciously. As a couple, my husband and I always ate together and when we had kids, bringing them to the table was a natural progression. Our weeks are filled with long work days, sports practices, evening school events, church, and work events. But I’d say 28 days out of each month, we eat together. Sometimes it’s rushed before an event and chicken nuggets and steamed broccoli count as a complete meal. Other times its 7:30 when we are finally all home to be together. We take turns saying grace, a prayer of choice that usually covers being thankful for our food, for being all together, wishing sick family members well, and praying for what is happening in our week. Listening to what the kids come up with is heartwarming. It varies from, “help me find the Nascar car I lost” to “thank you daddy for working so hard for us today.” Whatever they are praying for, it gets them in the habit of being grateful and asking God for guidance.
Our dinner conversations cover the usual, how was your day? The kids hear about our work frustration or successes and in turn we listen to the highs and lows of their day. I think it has created a place they feel safe and heard. This is where we are asked our advice on handling difficult classmates or we hear a confession that our kindergartener got moved to “think about it” on their behavior chart at school. It’s also where we crack funny jokes and end up in belly laughs over each other’s silliness. We make plans for trips we’d like to take someday; we get into life lessons, like why and how we need to save money for said trips. For 20-30 minutes each day, we enjoy a meal and conversation with each other. I can’t think of any other way we could recreate this awesome experience we have with each other.
If I didn’t have this time with my family, I would have to hunt down each family member to have these conversations. And these conversations
wouldn’t have the input from the whole family. My husband and I might have to tackle tough questions apart rather than together. We would miss the chain reaction laughter that happens. We might completely miss the opportunity in a busy day to ever know something was bothering one of us. We are stronger when we are together.
As the kids get older, this might be harder to do. But beginning the habit with little ones creates the expectation and foundation for the importance of this tradition. If evening practices or work schedules make it harder, we will just have to be more creative with how we make these meal times happen. But knowing now how important they are and knowing that my kids are going to need the strength of their family even more as life gets harder, this isn’t a tradition I am willing to give up.
Can’t do it every night? Then start small. Commit to one night where everyone shows up at the same time and stays the whole time. Little tikes and difficult eaters still need to put in their time with the family.