Posts tagged making time for family

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.

Choosing between my son and me



Good parenting is often choosing self-sacrifice rather than self.

“Daddy, you wanna hear me count to 10 million?”

Not a question I expected or necessarily even wanted to hear from my 5-year-old.

“Um … well … no, not really,” I was tempted to say (lovingly, of course).

Maybe for a mom, a question like this is precious! But I’m a dad and after a long workday, it’s most definitely not precious. “Let’s see, what’s the best way to waste time tonight? Ooh, I know, let’s count to 10 million.”

I’m pretty sure my 5-year-old can’t even count to 10 million, much less do it fast enough to fit the jammed schedule I had planned for the evening:

  • Put on comfortable clothes? Yep.
  • Eat dinner? Uh-huh.
  • Watch playoff basketball game? Now you’re talking!

Count to 10 million? Negative. I could hear it already. “One, two, three, four, five, um … wait, I’m starting over.”

Oh sure, you’re probably more spiritual than me. Cast the first stone if you must. But most of you with young kids can relate. They’re growing fast and learning about things too big for them. So they look to you for help sorting it all out. You want to be a great parent, but time and energy run short.

As I thought about the choice I had to make that night, God began to remind me of a few important things about spiritual life and parenting:

I needed to view this from my child’s eyes, not just my own. I joke that, in my flesh, I’m not really interested in hearing my son count to 10 million. But truthfully, from his perspective, that’s a huge deal and an incredibly worthwhile investment of his time. And for me to spend my evening doing that is even bigger to him.

I agree with what Steve Farrar writes in his book, Point Man: “Quality time comes at the most unusual moments. You never know when it will happen. It usually makes an appearance someplace in the realm of quantity time.”

Remembering to look through my child’s eyes gets me out of “quality time” mode and into “quantity time” mode. Don’t ask me exactly how to measure “quantity time,” though I figure counting to ten million is a pretty good place to start.

I can’t use up all my energy at work … I need to save some for when I get home. I’m as guilty as the next guy of putting every ounce of energy I can into my workday. I’ve got plenty of good reasons to do it, too. The Bible tells me to work hard, “as for the Lord rather than men” (Colossians 3:23). There’s also the economy to think about. I mean, who wants to be the guy found not working hard these days?

Unfortunately, none of that makes any difference to my son. All he knows is that I don’t want to hear him count to 10 million. For me, preserving some physical energy for when I get home actually helps me set the right pace for myself at work — sort of a parenting twist on the “render unto Caesar” concept. Render unto work the things due at work, but don’t render everything you’ve got every single day.

I needed to see this as an opportunity, not an interruption. Spontaneous “teachable moments” are the very essence of parenting. But I’ve found that it’s up to me whether I view them as opportunities or as interruptions. A steward has opportunities. An owner has interruptions. The wise parent spends his days as a steward.

On this occasion, though, I think God just wanted me to feel like a parent and to make a choice. My choice of whether to count to 10 million or not was really choosing between my son and me … between self-sacrifice and self.  And that’s always the rub isn’t it?

To be fair, a tired mom or dad may actually need to choose rest over the kids. But for me it’s usually not that complicated, and I still pick me more often than not.  But sometimes I make the better choice.

I have no idea who won the basketball game. But I’ll never forget the time I discovered that my 5-year-old son really does know how to count to 10 million.

Who knew?

Copyright © 2010 by Jim Mitchell. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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