Thursday, June 28, 2012

WHAT'S FOR DINNER?

Often the most simple things of daily life communicate the deeper things in our hearts. I know that the importance of family dinners is not a new topic to most, but maybe you are like me and the reminders serve as an antidote to the strong pull of busy schedules. I find that when we are not intentional about family time in our home, we can go for days without having that connection. For the last few Christmas seasons I have sent out emails to all seven of our children with a list of possible dates and activities, asking them to choose and set aside those times so that we would be sure to have time together as a family. With the majority of our children away at college, this has worked well. But back in the day when we were all living at home we also had to be intentional. Here are some reasons and ideas for enjoying the benefits of family dinner times.

(As an aside, I feel that it is important to say that I have no desire at all for this post to come across as yet another thing you should be doing to be a good parent. Some of you have not had a family dinner in a long time, but you are connecting with your children in other real and significant ways. Maybe the family that has amazing dinnertimes does not have lengthy bedtime traditions, or regular "dates" with each child, or yearly weekends away..... The list can go on and on and on of all the good things we could be doing. I don't know about you, but there is simply NO WAY Stephen and I could implement all the great parenting ideas we have read about over the years! So, please know that at Hope at Home we never want to leave you feeling burdened or like a failure. We hope that this post, and any other thoughts we bring about parenting, will be helpful to you and leave you filled with Hope for your Home.)

A full dinner table, including cousins!

Atmosphere-- Not Just for Romance!

There is something about the smell of food cooking that speaks to us. Even the smell of broccoli steaming says something-- more than "ewwwww!" I hear the smell of dinner cooking saying, 
"you are loved. you are safe. you are cared for."
Family dinners do far more than provide food for your children. They help to create an atmosphere in your home. I try to light candles when we sit down to dinner, and even while I'm preparing, because I find that, like the smells, it communicates a sense of being special. It may seem strange if you associate candle light only with the occasional romantic dinner, but give it a try and see if you don't notice a difference. Grab your iPod and put on some music. Without words you are saying, 
"you are special. our family is special. our time together is special."
Consistent dinner times (yes, even the nights when there is more bickering than not!) foster feelings of warmth, unity, and bonding. With adoptive and foster families this is no small thing. In fact, I would say carving out time to carve that roast is a major tool in your ongoing work of bonding and the integration of your adopted or foster child into the complex mix of ingredients that make up your family. That sense of belonging, being a significant part of a whole, is key.

Relationship-- Conversation and Windows

One of the main reasons statistics show that consistent family meal times are beneficial for children, teens included, is because it serves as the context for authentic relationship. In between the, "pass the potatoes," and the "I hate green beans," are ideal times to connect. We have some talkers in our family, and we have the quiet types as well. So having a plan to guide the conversation can sometimes be helpful. For a season we used Monday night dinner time as an opportunity for everyone to share something that God has shown them in the last week. We kept it very broad-- it could be anything from a profound encounter during worship to a bible memory verse or something learned in children's church or youth group. Other nights we would go around the table and share one good thing and one hard thing that happened that day, or two things we are thankful for. Really, anything that will illicit a response and some interaction within the family is great. And be sure that both parents share too. Telling about a difficult situation at work is an effective way to help your children begin to understand your adult world. The goal is to share our lives with each other-- simple and quite powerful! This interaction gives us a window into our children's worlds as well. It get's us past the, "how was school sweetie?-- 'Good'" kind of thing. 

Training-- Imparting Vision and Identity

Once we have everyone all in one place it seems the best time for imparting some of the goodness of God into our children. Along with many other great ideas, we copied the Hillis family and would often have a book to read aloud as a family. Dinner time worked best for us, so Stephen or I would read a chapter from a biography of a Christian ( The Heavenly Man was our favorite), or a devotional type book, or scripture of course. Often I would find just a section of a book that I thought would be of interest and helpful, rather than feeling like we needed to read from beginning to end. When our children first came home from Russia we had to keep it short, but being flexible is part of family life already, isn't it?! These times together have served as a kind of anchor for our children, especially important in the teen years. 

There are a lot of other wonderful opportunities waiting for you at the dinner table-- the teaching of manners and social skills being no small thing, especially if you have children who grew up in an orphanage!! You are in a sense placing a deposit into your child's bank of emotional and spiritual stability. Definitely worth the effort!

So, next time your kids ask, "What's for dinner?!" you can respond, "Just a slice of love, a pinch of bonding, a dollop of relationship, and a spoonful of identity."  YUMMY!

Would you take the time to share some of your family's dinner time successes? What are some good conversation starters we could borrow from you? We love it when you leave a comment!!

4 comments:

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  2. Beth, this is go good and true. Even though we are down to one child at home, we still try to make family dinners a regular thing. Very important. Statistics bear it out.

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  3. Thanks for commenting Scott. I know what you mean-- with the family getting smaller as children grow up we have also had to be careful not to let things slide with our younger guys. Good point!

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  4. This is a comment from my friend Gina who has some really good ideas to share. (She had trouble commenting so she emailed me)

    Phil worked really long hours and didn't make it home for dinner most nights until just this passed fall when he changed jobs. Our meal became breakfast. We have eaten breakfast together every day since Davis started Kindergarten in 2008. It has made breakfast more than just a quick meal and made us a little more accountable as to what we are eating. It's a 3-ring circus but it's been our anchor. When the kids were younger, our family dinner focus became the weekends. We clung to dinners together F, S, Sunday. We also tried to pick one weeknight dinner that we would just eat late in our pjs so Phil could be there. I agree with you that meal time is so important and can really grab a lot of good parenting stuff and wrap all up into one setting. Another great idea a friend passed along to me when I shared with her how the dinner hour just never seemed to get easier and one would think it should considering my kids are now 5,7,9. We started dinner captain. Each child has a night. They pick the menu. They help me prepare and they set the table. When you are not dinner captain, you are expected to be playing a board game with your brother or sister. We broke from it for the summer and the kids really miss it. Last but my favorite is our annual blessing dinner. Sometime during the last few days of school, I make something fun like hamburgers or order pizza and make a fun dessert. Each of us blesses each child with all the ways she or he has grown that school year and we celebrate their successes. Carter has not been in school yet but we all have many blessings to shower him with too! Thank you for all your posts. I love each of them.

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