Test after test, survey after survey, study after study have all reached the same exact conclusion: Children who have regular dinners together with their parents do better in almost all areas of life, from higher grades in school, to maintaining loving relationships, to staying healthy, safe, and out of trouble. Family meals have more to do with adolescent’s self-esteem, confidence, and other positive outcomes than do income levels, after-school activities, family structure, or regular attendance at church. That’s right, from drugs, to alcohol, to smoking, to promiscuity, studies show that the simple habit of family dinner helps lower the odds of your kids driving off perilous behavioral cliffs.
Whether our kids are young and this predictable routine is an island of calm in a world of change, or they are in the “killer decade” between ages 10 and 20 and their issues are more complex, dinner has a way off cutting through things and into things that have nothing to do with food. Family dinner provides the perfect time for meaningful discussion about big-picture questions, ethics, and values. Mealtime conversation encourages one to think, reflect, learn and express. The regularity and repetition and consistency of this can be used to shape ones foundation and ones assumptions about life, the steadiness and dependability of self, family, state, and of God.
So I’m cooking up a version of the Family Dinner–a once respected ritual and longstanding tool for raising children that’s been overshadowed by the overscheduled. Really, how many opportunities during the day do we have to connect as a family in a meaningful way? Dinner time seems to me to be the best time to take advantage of each other’s company. It’s just not right that we typically inhale fast food in the car, in front of the TV, beside a computer, or standing alone at a kitchen counter. Meals should be shared with people we want to invest in where we can reach across the table with our eyes and ears and words of love.
I’m anticipating an event each and every time our family gathers together at the dinner table.
STEP ONE: It’s a Date! I will set a regular time for the family dinner and everyone will come to the table at the same time.
STEP TWO: Extended family and friends are always welcome.
STEP THREE: Ambiance. I’ll paint the dinner fancy with candle light and flowers, folded napkins, heirlooms and music. If the menu and company dictates, I will cover the table with craft paper and set out crayons, water paints, and pens.
STEP FOUR: No phones. No Television. We will be with the ones who are present.
STEP FIVE: Water only, and wine if you’re an adult.
STEP SIX: I will serve adult meals using kid-friendly ingredients. My child will be required to try everything.
STEP SEVEN: Entertainment? Of course! Poetry readings, word games, questions to each about their worst fears…news worthy articles read aloud to stimulate mature debate, maybe recitals. “Table Talk!”
STEP EIGHT: You’re Excused. Dinner is not over until after dessert, and everybody stays until clean up is finished.
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