What is your family schedule like? Does it ever seem like all the family members are going in different directions all the time? One way to fight that trend is to make dinner time a priority.
Is there anything magical about having a meal together? There could be. Studies show that when families make it a habit to eat dinner together, teenagers are less likely to use drugs and alcohol and less likely to have high stress. Kids of all ages do better in school, especially reading. Eating together isn’t the only thing that makes families strong, but it is a good indicator that family members are making time together a priority.
Our friends at the Centre for Fathering in Singapore have declared an annual “Eat With Your Family Day” to remind fathers about the benefits of eating together as a family. They suggest that dads take the lead in getting everyone involved and coming up with fun things to talk about. They also suggest that dads regularly prepare a meal—a fun activity with the kids, and possibly a night off for Mom. There are more ideas at Real Men Cook.
We can’t let our families drift apart because of busy schedules, because there’s something on TV or someone calls on the phone. Once you start allowing distractions in, keeping them out becomes much more difficult. Dinnertime is one tangible way to take back time as a family, although the commitment also needs to apply beyond the dinner table.
We have to set boundaries for “together time” and protect it. And when the kids complain—“Family dinner … Why?”—don’t lose your positive attitude or get drawn into an argument. Just smile and say, “Thanks for being here. I appreciate it.”
One sobering exercise is to calculate how many days you have left with your children before they leave home. If your child were born today, you would have just over 6,500 days and dinner opportunities left to influence and connect with him or her at home. If your child is nine, cut that number in half. If your child is twelve, you have just under 2,200 days left with him or her. One father of a high school senior says that every time his son suggests that they do something together, he finds a way to make it work because he knows those opportunities are almost gone.
- Plan a meal when your whole family can eat together in the next few days. Consider scheduling the same 3 or 4 days each week for dinner together.
- For your family meals, bring an interesting question or topic for the family to discuss. Or have a great joke to tell.
- Turn off cell phones, answering machines and other distractions during family time.
- Read about another meaningful way to track how much time you have left with your kids.
- Commit to fixing dinner for your family one night a week or find another way to serve your family and create more bonding opportunities, such as taking over homework supervision duties with your kids.
- Come up with a “What would you do if …?” question to ask your kids during dinner that addresses a specific lesson: forgiveness, kindness, honesty, etc.