I know the phrase “Family Dinner” has become popular with tv campaigns and articles promoting the benefits of families sitting down to dinner at least once a week. But the term has been in our family since the girls were quite young. How we got there was a realization on my part that I was making a BIG mistake at dinnertime….
I was not thrilled about dinner, as a matter of fact, I had come to loathe it by the time the kids were about 8 (Claire) and 3 (Margot). They were very picky about what they would and wouldn’t eat, and what was a favorite dinner one week was unacceptable the next. Milk spilled, food dropped on the floor, and there was little or no conversation.
I have a vivid recollection of the last bad dinner – I put their food on the table and left the room. I can still see their faces – mommy is mad and they were unhappy; maybe even intimidated. As I sat in the other room, I was stewing over how awful this situation was and bemoaning the fact that the dinner hour should be an event – eating a nice meal and catching up on everyone’s day.
Then the lightbulb went off. How were they supposed to do that if I didn’t teach them. I had created this situation and my kids were paying the price. So, the next night I made dinner and sat down with them. They were surprised and actually asked, “Mommy are you eating dinner with us?” Wow – that said volumes!
I said yes and that we were all spending one hour at the table. I’m sure they wondered what they were going to do for an hour, but I was prepared. I had paper, pencil, and a plan. With Claire I played hangman and Margot tic-tac-toe.
Hangman is the perfect game for opening a dialogue and keeping the conversation going. Claire loved to read, watch tv shows and movies, and listen to music. Her clues would be show titles or favorite tv/movie stars, favorite music artists or titles of songs. Margot listened and waited patiently as I alternated between the girls. They loved it and we continued it on the weekends with Daddy.
We had a favorite neighborhood restaurant where we went two or three times a month. They had paper tablecloths and we put together a special pencil-case with crayons, markers, and colored pencils. We played games and made drawings between courses. As Margot got older she started playing Hangman and we eventually got to a point where we often guessed the right answer to each others clues without any letters because we communicated regularly and knew each other so well.
The result was that within a short time they loved family dinner, not always the food, but I learned to work around that. It was a time of easy conversation and bonding. When they got to the point where school and social activities sometimes interfered with having dinner together every night, Sunday night was mandatory family dinner night.
Interestingly, they talked about this with their friends and the friends wanted to come to dinner. Another great way of getting to know your kids is to get to know their friends and what better way than at the dinner table.
Overall, it was huge success and to this day, when they come home, family dinner is what they want and I think what they need. I know I do.