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The Family Table

The Family Table

“Growing up, I learned life’s important lessons at the dinner table.”—Chef John Besh

I am not only a dad; I’m a university professor as well. One of the things we value at Kingswood is community. To perpetuate this, we often invite students to join us for a family meal.

One of my fellow faculty members shared a heartbreaking story. A student had joined them for dinner. About halfway through the meal, the young girl began to weep. This, of course, confused her hosts.

“What’s wrong?” they asked.

“It’s just that this is so special,” she said.

“It’s just meatloaf.”

She continued, “I have never had a family meal like this. Our family didn’t eat meals together. Even on Christmas we served ourselves and sat around the den watching TV.  We never sat and talked like this. The only time we ate as a family was when we went to a restaurant. This is so special.”

This was such a strange concept for me to absorb. We always had family meals when I was growing up. In fact, we often shared two meals a day; breakfast and dinner.  Breakfast seemed to be a shovel it in and get the day started meal, but dinner was different. It seemed to be the time for our family to reconnect and catch up on each other’s days. We would laugh and learn together. We were a family and if somebody was missing (for drama practice, etc.) it felt different. When we were younger, the time included a short devotion for the family as well.

I didn’t realize what a blessing those meals were.

When my wife and I became parents, we continued the tradition. It was habit and a nice family time, so it felt natural to continue it. However, the situation with my student caused me to be introspective on the tradition.

Here are some things to consider:

If it can’t be helped, it can be a feast from a bucket or the plunder from a drive-thru lane, but eat it together – around the table. Keep in mind, however, that there is value in the prep. Cooking is becoming a lost art.

Get everyone involved. Setting the table, grocery shopping, cooking, serving, clean-up—they all build unity and character. Properly motivated, most children like to help. For young children, setting the table is an adventure (try not to be too critical of the results).

No technology is allowed at the table. We don’t even answer the phone once the meal has begun. Why should we deem a phone call (usually from a solicitor) worthy of interrupting our family time?

Occasionally you can eat in front of the TV if there is something special being televised the whole family can enjoy together. But be warned, the more you do it, the quicker your family communication skills will dwindle.

Dad, make sure the time is inclusive. Make sure everyone has time to share and be involved in the conversation or interest will wane—the family meal should not be a spectator sport for anyone.

If you do not have a family meal tradition, I urge you to start.  It’s not too late so long as you are in your “just 18 summers” time frame. You may not be able to do it every day, but try to fit in as many as you can, and be consistent to the days of the week.

As well, it is a good idea to let your family know it is a priority—that you are willing to set aside everything you may be doing to join them at the table. This is important because…

Oops, gotta go! It’s time for dinner.

By: Dave Trouten is the married father of two teenage boys and a Division Chair & Professor of Communication at Kingswood University.

Join us at www.just18summers.com for our parenting blog each Monday-Friday and for info about the Just 18 Summers novel.

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