Up until the moment I found out I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I survived off restaurants and take-out food. It was quick and easy because all that was required was deciding if you wanted dessert or not- no preparation, no dishes, no muss, no fuss. But I knew this way of life was not an ideal approach to dinner with a family.
As a little girl, I can remember the smell of homemade spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove and crusty, buttery garlic bread toasting in the oven. The house always smelled delicious around 5 o’clock each evening. When mom announced dinner was ready, we all came out from all corners of the house to gather ’round the table. We began by joining hands while my dad said grace. We often engaged in conversation about our day while we partook in the homemade meal that was lovingly prepared.
Amazingly, I do not recall how often I made a mess of my spaghetti or how many times my dad had to say “alright, no more talking for the rest of dinner” due to my brother and I’s relentless bickering. What I remember most was that each day at 5 o’clock, my family ate a meal together.
With a family of my own, I had dreams of nostalgic moments at the dinner table. I lovingly prepared my home cooked meal, which I was sure my family would appreciate. I didn’t envision the inevitable spills, the “she stuck her tongue out at me,” the ” but I don’t like mushrooms…I’m not eating this!” followed by my threats of punishment, yelling, and the familiar parent go-to: “there are children who don’t know when their next meal is. You better be thankful!”
Take these hectic moments, add a couple alert-beeping devices, and a rushed evening of homework, clean-up and bedtime routine– nostalgia somehow got swallowed by craziness. While I sat at the table the other night, I felt like I was in the middle of a war zone, rather than an opportunity to spend time with my family. My husband was distracted by work emails on his phone. My daughter was crawling under the table to tickle her brother’s feet. My son had food everywhere but his mouth and was busy pushing peas into the straw of his water bottle. I somehow managed to shovel food into mouth (it is my only defense mechanism in order to eat my food while it remains hot) and yell (ok, scream) at the kids to sit still and finish their dinner.
It occurred to me as I stood over my sink and washed the dishes that dinnertime was not going as I had originally pictured so long ago. But it also occurred to me that if I wanted this to change, I had to make it change. I wanted to make more than just messes at the table- I wanted to make memories. I wanted to cultivate relationships with my family during this precious time. I wanted to leave the table each evening feeling rejuvenated and encouraged, not frustrated and defeated.
So I decided to bring a strategy to the table.
- Schedule Dinnertime. It is important to designate a specific time for dinner each night. This time should reflect when each member of the family can be present (if possible). The time allotted should offer sufficient amount of time to sit together to talk about your family’s day and learn more about your kids. Set a starting and end time that is also a realistic expectation that allows your family to complete their bedtime routines and wind down at a speed that doesn’t resemble the amazing race.
- Remove All Distractions. Nothing but warm bodies should be present at the table- this eliminates phones, iPads, computers, TV, kid’s toys, etc. Dinnertime is when we can talk to each other- it’s not a time to check Facebook, send a text message, or catch the score of the game. It is especially important that we as parents set this precedent in order to demonstrate the expectations for our children at the table.
- Engage. Don’t just be physically present. It becomes too easy to cloud our mind with what still needs done or an item that needs added to the to-do list. Focus on your family. Listen to what they are saying and respond with words that are affirming, uplifting, and edifying. Ask questions. Ask LOTS of questions! This cultivates your relationships, while also giving insight to what your family is going through- identify struggles, strengths and situations that you can cover in prayer.
- Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Spills and messes are a common frustration for many parents. While I am not suggesting to to condone a food fight or ignore an avoidable mess, I am suggesting to not freak out! As a type-A, slightly OCD person, I understand how a mess has the ability to send one through the roof. But it’s important to establish an environment that maintains balance between disciplined order with reactions that provide a positive example when things don’t go our way.
- Give Thanks. Although this is listed last, it certainly does not qualify as the least priority. Give God praise for his provision of the meal and for bringing the family together. This acknowledges God’s faithfulness and sets the tone for the conversations that follow. Take time to share with one another what God did for you today with a heart of thankfulness.
The Humble Homemaker