Making the Most of Family Dinner

If you are like most, your family is busy, busy, busy. The day begins and ends in a bustle of activity and energy. Data from Child Trends Fact Sheet (2012) shows that in the state of Oregon, whereas 66% percent of families with children ages 0-5 years eat dinner together a minimum of 6 days a week, only 57% of families with children ages 6-11 years and 38% of families with children ages 12-18 years do so. As children get older, more involved in extracurricular and social activities, it becomes more difficult for families to maintain the habit of a shared family meal.

Correlations have been found between the daily ritual of family dinner and families whose children are confident and successful in school. Similarly, adolescents who eat dinner with their families are less likely to develop dangerous eating disorders or abuse drugs and alcohol. Charles Duhigg presents a fascinating discussion in his book The Power of Habit about how keystone habits, such as family dinner, can create a cascade of positive changes. A focus on family dinner may encourage the development of skills in time management, organization and, if family dinner is to be any fun at all, conversation and connection. It provides parents an opportunity to check in with otherwise busy and preoccupied teens about their studies, friends and activities. Healthy habits are modeled at the dinner table whether they be dietary or relational.

It may be that your particular cherubs aren’t too keen on making family dinner a daily occurrence. They see it as a chore: “It’s boring! I’m too busy. I don’t have time. Do I have to?” Mary Poppins’ philosophy about work and play says it well:

In ev’ry job that must be done

there is an element of fun

You find the fun and snap!

The job’s a game

A spoonful of sugar to turn family dinner into play time:

Conversation Cubes: I keep a set of these in my office and they are handy for getting a conversation started. Children love to make up games with the cubes, earning points for not only answering questions but asking thoughtful follow up questions to keep the conversation going.

Table Topics: The clever creators of these conversation starters have come up with several sets appropriate for children and families. The questions are fun, imaginative and sure to prompt an interesting discussion.

Good news and a thing to improve: This is a game we play at our dinner table. Each person takes a turn sharing a “good news” from their day and the rest of the family gets to ask questions before moving on to the next person. Once everyone has shared a predetermined number of “good new,” we sometimes share “a thing to improve” or something we wish was different about our day.

What games or conversations starters do you use at the dinner table?

Happiness and Growth

While reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, I was struck by one of the author’s goals as she pursued greater happiness in her work life. She had decided to challenge herself by learning a new skill – blogging. She recognized something that we have all experienced first hand: it feels good to master a new skill, to push ourselves past our initial hesitations and uncertainties. If you have children, you’ve watched them struggle to learn to catch a football or play the piano. Perhaps there were tears of frustration — theirs and yours — as well as angry recriminations, “Why are you making me do this?” Yet when they begin to get the hang of it, they are full of pride and confidence! They’ve pushed past their discomfort and conquered a new skill. One of my guiding mottos comes from the poet William Butler Yeats:

“Happiness is  neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that but simply growth,         We are happy when we are growing.”

Life invites us to accept challenges and learning opportunities daily if not hourly. Clearly we can’t all become master chefs, dance with the stars or be America’s next singing sensation but in small, meaningful ways we can stretch ourselves. Maybe it’s beginning a new family ritual or tradition (more on that in the next post!) or making time for quiet reflection. I have been meaning to start this blog for quite some time now. I can certainly relate to Gretchen’s initial hesitations in starting her own blog: Will I have the time? How difficult will it be to maintain?  What will my audience think of what I have to say? It certainly represents a challenge, an opportunity to push myself both personally and professionally!

As I welcome you to this new venture, I also want to challenge you to identify areas of your own life where you want to seek growth, whether personal, relational or professional. What small steps might you take to get started?