The Gifts of the Table

Making Family Meals Happen

Part 3 in our summer series, "Come To The Table"

Meal time. In seasons of rushing around with full days of all things “on-the-go”, meal time seems to so often be the first thing put on the back burner of family life. However, these moments of our gathering can be so critical in developing closer relationships and can be a source of soul nourishment for everyone in your family. Over the past 24 years of our parenting experience; having three bio children, one adopted as an infant, and two adopted as pre-teens, my husband and I have come to learn that meaningful conversation, sitting down eye-to-eye around our dinner table, is one of the most foundational elements of building and bonding a family.

Mealtimes are the opportune time for everyone to connect in one physical space to intentionally find out more about one another, express personal opinions and concerns, and explore or teach new things. In the case of our recently adopted pre-teen boys, we take this time to teach manners and “best practices” for eating, leaving behind the slurping and burping of their youth.  😉

Learning to communicate, to speak up, in a safe place, is especially important with older children. There are times when conversation needs to have time to be drawn out and given space for the hesitant and quieter voices. We’ve learned that listening is a skill to be developed–in our children as well as in us–and the table is the perfect space for respectful listening. At the table, there are also times when a child’s silence must be respected. At the table we learn that not all communication is audible through spoken word. We observe body language and learn the inaudible clues body language and the cues of eye contact. Practically speaking, we have always encouraged our children to look at the person speaking and participate with nonverbal cues to show they are listening such as smiling or nodding their heads

However, the real issue that so many of us face; how in the world do we make family dinners happen? Usually, for busy households with older children, the biggest obstacle seems to be getting everyone to the dinner table at the same time. Here are a few practices we’ve put in place:

Sometimes, waiting until everyone gets home from work or sports means having dinner a little later than seems normal. A small, healthy snack in late afternoon may help the little ones hold out.

Since our girls are older, jobs and friends often take up time in the evening. I like to send out a morning text telling everyone the time we plan to sit down to dinner. Sometimes I even include the menu for the night.  I invite them to make it home in time to gather with our family.

Don’t hesitate to open up the invitation. Sometimes accomplishing a family meal means that friends tag along. While solely family time should be set apart, if having two or three friends join for dinner means all of your kids are gathered, the more the merrier! You may also find that sharing meals with your children’s friends teaches you so many amazing things you’d otherwise never get to see about your child and their world!

When we’ve managed to gather, we practice giving everyone a turn to share about their day while we eat. Alternatively, we dig into our jar of starter questions similar to these:

What was your high and low for the day?
Who were you kind to today?
What was a hard moment you learned from?
What was the most random thing that happened today?
What are you most looking forward to this week/weekend?

Our time of gathering around the table is also the perfect time to celebrate accomplishments–the big and small “wins” we each have experienced. Celebrations look different in every family. For ours–having two boys whose first language and culture is Chinese–progress in reading, trying a new food, or even using a new vocabulary word correctly is worthy of verbal confetti!

Think about your table. What kinds of things happen with your family that could make every day a day worth celebrating? Maybe it’s a championship win for a sports team, or maybe it’s your child’s bravery instead of fear, or maybe it’s simply that your child spoke kindly to a friend or sibling rather than lashing out. Be cognizant of the “wins” your family members are reaching for and as they happen, be quick with the “shout-out!”

I’ve often heard that “the days are long, but the years are short.”  As we’ve adopted older children we’ve found this statement especially true. Instead of 18 years together under one roof, we may only have eight years with them. I sometimes feel pressure to make up for time lost–to quickly (and stressfully) “cram it all in” so they are taught every single thing they need to know before leaving the nest. It’s at these times I realize God has given me two sons in His timing, to love and nurture. In those future days rapidly approaching, He will continue meeting their needs far better than I, just as He did since their first breaths when they were unknown to me.                                        

Time for family gathering, for conversation, for teaching, for listening may be short, but it is to be treasured and honored. There are few times more significant for growing together and fostering belonging than moments spent in your home around your table. Trips, sports, high-energy adventures, and costly amusements are great “spikes” in the stuff of life, but the routine gifts of the table are priceless and will provide enrichment for a lifetime.

So what’s for dinner, tonight? You can do it!

Born and raised in Georgia, Kimberly and Dwight have been married for 27 years and are doing life as the parents of six children and one son-in-law. Kimberly is also a 5th grade teacher and loves bringing her two sons, recently home from China, along to Perimeter Christian School where she teaches. She has always had a heart for bringing family and friends together and is faithful to bring all of her children under the same roof as often as possible.

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