Posts tagged making family a priority

How to make the family meal the norm



This is the final post of two about how to combat electronic isolation and bring the family together by making the dinner table a priority. “Capturing the elusive family meal” made the case for how pivotal the meal can be in strengthening family relationships. This post gives you suggestions on how to ease into family meals without a lot of hassle.

Mind your manners

The social graces used to be a part of everyone’s education. Today many children have no clue about proper table etiquette or why it even matters. In our house the dinner table is Manners 101. Occasionally we get objections, especially from the older children, about how the rules are old fashioned or too restrictive. That’s often a great opportunity to remind them that manners are not so much about rules as they are about showing consideration for others.

From time to time, though, I’m the one who needs the reminder that manners aren’t just about rules. Sometimes in my desire to teach my children good behavior, I’ve found myself so overbearing in my correction that the atmosphere at the meal becomes unpleasant. What is supposed to be an enjoyable time can become anything but. These interactions at the dinner table give everyone, even us adults, a chance to grow and show grace.

The dinner table is an opportunity to remind each person that he or she is a valued member of the family, and that the actions of one person can affect everyone in the family. It assures children that they belong to a group of people who genuinely care for them.

Setting your family table
Recent family fun at our dinner table.

Recent family fun at our dinner table.

After nearly 30 years of gathering daily for meals, Ellie and I are convinced that we’ve truly benefited by making the family table a priority. Maybe you agree in principle, but you can’t see how you will ever get past all the obstacles to make the family meal a regular part of your schedule. Maybe you feel you don’t have time to do the cooking. Maybe dinner is the worst time of the day when it comes to family schedules. Maybe having meals together is such a foreign idea you don’t know where to start.

Here are a few tips that may set you on your way to making your dining room one of the most special rooms in the house.

Enlist the family’s help. Kids can help shop, prepare the food, set the table, serve the drinks and food, and clean up after the meal. In our home, we have assigned responsibilities that rotate every week. Dads, you need to make it a priority to come home from work on time.

Set reasonable goals. If you’re not eating together at all, start off with one or two simple meals, then gradually increase the number of meals and how elaborate they are. Set a goal for the number of meals you want to eat each week as a family and require everyone to be there. Children, especially the older ones, may resist at first. After a while, though, children actually become the greatest advocates for spending time around the dinner table.

Minimize your time in the kitchen. If you’re spending hours preparing and cleaning up for a 15-minute meal, chances are you’ll give up on family meals before very long. Enlist all your servants like the microwave, crock-pot, and pressure cooker. When you fix meals, prepare double or triple portions, then freeze or refrigerate for later meals.

To focus on each other, you need to ban the electronics. Turn off the television and computer, and don’t answer the phone.

Focus on being together rather than creating a full course meal. If you have to, serve heat-and-eat foods and just add a pre-mixed salad for health and to dress up the meal. You can bet that King Solomon saw his share of elaborate feasts, yet he declared, “Better a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred” (Proverbs 15:17).

Create some memorable meals. Every once in a while, you might want to make it really special. A fancy meal is a great way to focus on manners, and a special treat for the girls. It helps emphasize the holy nature of family gatherings. Candles, flowers, and the nice tableware add a special touch.

Make the family table an outreach for friends. If your children are of dating/courting age, it’s a good opportunity to get to know their special friends, a girlfriend or boyfriend. It also lets that person better understand your child within the context of his or her family, as they see the interaction with their siblings and parents.

Think of discussion topics ahead of time. A verse of Scripture, the latest news, a new joke. I recently got each family member to jot down their favorite color, flower, food, etc. on a piece of paper. I collected them and read them aloud while everyone tried to guess the family member.

Find ways to make it positive. Reward a child’s good behavior with an extra serving of dessert or the privilege of planning an upcoming menu.

However you choose to organize your family meals, make them a special part of who you are as a family. You can bet that in years to come, your children will look back at those daily times as some of the most influential moments in their lives. Who knows? In a generation, they may be sitting down with their children, creating special moments of their own.

© FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “How to make the family meal the norm” on the Stepping Up men’s blog. Don’t forget part 1.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistAs leader of your home, what will you do to help your family connect in this digital and individualistic age? 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistJust Add Family is a fun resource from FamilyLife designed to connect family members and build memories.

STEPPass - 10-point checklistShare these articles with a friend. If you have encouraging insights on family meals, share them with us.

Capturing the elusive family meal



Does it seem like meaningful daily interaction in your family is getting more and more rare? Busy schedules and personal electronics tend to do that.

The other day, I was lamenting how much scarcer our family time has gotten in recent years. Then I remembered an article I had written a decade earlier about the importance of family time, and especially the family dinner table. When I found it and re-read it, it seemed so timely and helpful, so I’ve decided to revive it here on Stepping Up in two posts. The first makes the case for making the effort. The second will give some tips for making family time at the dinner table the new norm around your house.

Recently, one of our teenage children invited a friend over for dinner. For us it was a typical meal around the dinner table. For him, it was a unique experience. He told us that both his parents work long hours, and his family of four only eats together for special occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas. He didn’t seem to mind squeezing in to an already crowded table of eight. In fact, he remarked more than once how great it was.

My wife, Ellie, and I both grew up in families where mealtime was family time, so early in our marriage we decided to continue the tradition. With only two of our seven children still living at home, it has become more difficult than ever to keep family meals a priority. But we know it’s worth the effort, especially in this age of frenetic schedules. Esteemed universities and scholarly journals agree—study after study shows the nutritional, social, emotional, and spiritual benefits of the family dinner table. For example, children who eat regularly with their family:

  • have fewer behavior problems in school and are significantly less likely to get involved with drugs, alcohol, and early sexual behavior;
  • are significantly more likely to have a healthy balanced diet and less likely to be overweight;
  • are likely to have higher test scores relative to the amount of time spent with family;
  • have higher communication skills and greater vocabulary;
  • teenage girls are particularly less likely to suffer from depression or attempt suicide, and less prone to develop eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Unfortunately, few families are enjoying this important part of life. Recent research suggests that between 10 and 40 percent of children never or seldom eat together with their family. On average a family shares only 3-5 meals together a week, and even that average drops considerably as children become teens.

Living in the real world

50s Dinner TableThe cohesive family unit of 50 years ago is fast becoming ancient history. Today, each family member is more individualistic and isolated from the others in the family. Dad (and often, Mom) goes off to work and spends at least eight hours with other adults. Children spend the large portion of the day in class and most of the interactions they do have are strictly with those their own age.

The dinner table offers the opportunity to bring adults, teens, and younger children together to share their individual experiences of the day. It becomes the place where life issues are raised, discussed, and resolved. Rather than each family member continuing to drift into his or her own individual world, the interaction during mealtime strengthens family bonds and enriches the daily experience of life.

Throughout Scripture, when the word table is used, it often connotes more than just the piece of furniture where the food is served. It is often a place of special honor, acceptance, care, and fellowship. The cup and bread that we share in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice for us, we often refer to as the Lord’s Table. In Psalm 23:5, King David declares to God, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” We see numerous passages where close associates of a king are referred to as those who ate at his table (2 Samuel 9:11; 1 Kings 18:19; Luke 22:27-30).

In the book of Deuteronomy, God commands parents to teach their children throughout the routine activities of the day (6:4-7; 11:18-20). Children learn best not in the school classroom, but in the classroom of life. At the Williams dinner table, often someone will bring up a current event topic and others will chime in with their perspectives. While the conversation is usually between the teens and adults, our younger children take it all in and learn things that wouldn’t have otherwise entered their minds.

A wise parent not only monitors the conversation at the table but looks for ways to direct it. Often seeing how siblings act and react toward each other at the table can be a cue to parents to teach the importance of honor, acceptance, and graciousness. Sharing wisdom that comes from a verse of Scripture or from a life experience becomes a natural part of the conversation as we face new experiences or address issues that are hampering family unity. With all family members there at one time, we as parents have a captive audience for revealing that God is still guiding us in our own maturing process.

Read the second post, “How to make the family meal the norm,” which will give you some tips on how to ease into family meals without a lot of hassle.

© FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklistYou just finished reading “Capturing the elusive family meal” on the Stepping Up men’s blog. Don’t forget part 2.

STEPThink - 10-point checklistAs leader of your home, what will you do to help your family connect in this digital  and individualistic age? 

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistAlso consider connecting in the car with “10 Ideas for Non-Digital Family Fun on Road Trips.” 

STEPPass - 10-point checklistSit down with your wife to figure out how you can build a strong family table without putting extra pressure on her.

What breed of man are you?



A motto I once heard goes like this: Winners concentrate on winning, while losers concentrate on just getting by.

If that statement were carved into the granite at the front of a Fortune 500 company, you would nod your head in agreement. Inwardly you might say, Now that’s the way to run a business. I would imagine that company is really a company of excellence. They know how to do things right!

Yet when it comes to the family, it’s interesting that most homes today would have to be characterized as losers. Too many marriages have become marred by mediocrity. Children are seen, at best, as a status symbol — a way to achieve something through them that we, ourselves, weren’t able to achieve when we were their age.

Too many marriages today are concentrating on “just getting by.” With “squeaking by” as the goal, it is no wonder so many marriages don’t amount to much.

In his best-seller, The Seeds of Greatness, Denis Waitley tells the story of his grandmother whom he idolized. She crossed an apricot and a plum tree. Grandmother Waitley called it a plumcot. This delicious fruit was perfected by the gentle, wise old lady after careful and tedious pruning and grafting of the two fruit-bearing trees.

As a boy, Denis learned a valuable lesson from his grandmother. She harvested a plumcot because that was what she planted.

What you plant is what you get

Marriage is a lot like that — we never get out of a marriage what we do not put into it.

One man confessed, “At work I concentrate on winning, and as a result, I am a winner. At home, however, I concentrate on just getting by.”

It’s no wonder he is losing.

As Americans, we think of ourselves as winners … we are used to winning, but too many times in the wrong places. As a result, we end up losing in the important places … at home.

Vance Havner has said, “Americans know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.”

If a business goes bankrupt, it is the president or the chairman of the board who is to blame. Similarly, if the home fails, the man is to blame. You and I, as husbands and fathers of our family, must master the ageless art of leadership and apply it to our families. If we ever hope to win at home, then we must focus on winning.

Spinning plates

Too many of us, as the leaders of our families, are like the man who used to come on the Ed Sullivan Show years ago and spin the plates. This man would start at one end of a long table by placing a stick perpendicular to the table and spinning a plate on the stick. In consecutive order the plates would be placed … two, three, four, five, six plates. As the first plate slowed down, it would begin to wobble. I can remember denying the urge to want to jump through the TV and run to help the man by grabbing the plate before it fell off the stick and shattered into tiny slivers of porcelain pieces.

Now with the first plate wobbling in a near-fatal orbit, the man would rush back and expertly spin that plate again as the audience breathed a sigh of relief. On he would go … seven, eight, nine. By that time, plates two, three, and four were now beginning to wobble. And just before you knew the man could not keep a dozen or so plates spinning, he would quickly scoop them up in his professional hands like he was carrying them to the cupboard and bow to the smiling applause of the audience.

Similarly, the roles we assume in life — husband, a father, a businessman, a civic leader, a church leader, a golfer, a fisherman — all represent different plates in our lives. We begin spinning them early in our married life with plate number one being our marriage. Giving focused attention to that one place, the plate spins along merrily and does well. With the addition of plates number two (business) and three (children), efforts to focus become more difficult. Carefully we keep adding our plates until we finally step back from the table to see two or three of the first plates beginning to wobble badly. We have to make choices. Decisions. Decisions based upon priorities. Our family has needs, but we mistakenly choose to meet those “material” needs by applying our efforts primarily to our business. The result: Focus is lost.

However, most businessmen are not worried about starving. Most of us are concerned about status, significance, accumulation of more, and how we can feed the materialistic monster that lives within us. A good friend recently said, “Materialism is not what you have, it is what has you.”

Too many husbands and fathers have become dizzy from the many spinning plates we have set up. We give our family an occasional spin just to keep things at status quo. We focus on just getting by. The results? More plates begin to fall off the table. Children become strangers — children who are crying out for attention. Mothers plead for help. Meanwhile, being the visionary leaders that we are, we ignore fallen plates and add additional plates. Yet the Psalmist warns, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”

There is no question why so many marriages and families are functioning poorly. Nothing — a business, a school, a basketball team, or a family — can function without leadership, energy, time, and most importantly, focused attention. Without these, the plates will begin to fall.

Being somewhat of a selfish man myself, I struggled to keep my family plates spinning over the dozen ego-stroking plates I could have focused on, spending energy to keep them spinning, when our kids were growing up. However, I was constantly forced by the person of Jesus Christ to come to grips with my limits. I have been wrestled to the ground by Him on more than one occasion to be forced to answer the question, “How many plates can you keep spinning and still win?”

Another question which redirects me is, “Where do I want to win so badly that I am unequivocally unwilling to lose?”

“Which of those plates would I be willing to lose for the sake of my family, if need be?”

A new breed of man

Today some tough questions face Christian businessmen and leaders. We have become a cult of Christian celebrities. We worship successful businessmen and pro athletes who can perform in the office or on the field. We pay little regard to whether they are a success in their personal and private lives. The time has come for a new breed of Christian husbands and fathers.

We need a new breed of man who will say “no” to more bucks when it means sacrificing our families. A new breed of man who will place family between us and every decision we make. A new breed of man who will ask the question, “How will this affect my family?” A new breed of man who will determine how much is enough. We need a breed of man who will seek to establish relationships with our families before seeking fame in our culture. A new breed of man who will recognize that we need to leave something to posterity that will outlive us: proven character in our children. A new breed of leader who realizes that to succeed in the eyes of men, but fail in the eyes of God, is the ultimate waste.

Renowned Senate chaplain Peter Marshall once said, “It is better to fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than to succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.”

One last question — will you take upon yourself the challenge that Albert Einstein gave a group of young scientists? While addressing this highly motivated group of young men, he pointed to them and said, “Gentlemen, try not to become men of success. But rather, try to become men of value.”

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

STEPSeek - 10-point checklist

You just read a post by Dennis Rainey, What breed of man are you? on the Stepping Up blog for men.

STEPThink - 10-point checklist
So, what breed of man are you? Could you do a better job of defining success at home? Write a definition to guide you.

STEPEmbrace - 10-point checklistListen to the FamilyLife Today broadcast series on how to implement strategic planning in your home life.

STEPPass - 10-point checklist

Think of one thing that you can do this week to lead your wife and children. Make that your measure for success.

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