I don’t need to tell you that it’s important to sit down together for dinner. Either we do it or we don’t, depending on our habits and schedules. So, right now, either you don’t feel guilty because you are sitting down together for meals as much as possible, or you do feel guilty because dinner has somehow become some sort of shifting chaotic short order cook phenomenon. Either way, I understand. We’ve done both over here.
Life sometimes makes every hour of every day pretty messy, so go easy on yourself if you’re in the trenches. There will come a time when the baby is not crying and the toddler will grow into a child who sits still longer. I promise.
That said, I’m sharing 5 things we do over here to connect (and stay) at the table:
- QUESTION TILES: A couple of years ago I made a trip to speak at an event in Kentucky. While there I went to spend an evening with some lovely women and we created things while sitting and talking. One of the options was to use Sharpies (I LOVE SHARPIES) for tiny ceramic tiles, coloring pictures on them or writing meaningful words. The idea was to store them in a little container and keep them at the table. Then during dinner, we take turns drawing tiles and responding to their meaning. Our tiles have words or pictures that symbolize: Friendship, Nature, Love, Peace, and Surrender. A person draws a tile and then talks about a friend they appreciate, something they love about nature, someone or something they love, what makes them feel peaceful. If they get “surrender”, they talk about something that’s hard that they need help with or need to let go of. (Of course, this works with the boys at their current ages, but obviously Elsie Jane doesn’t really know what’s going on. And I’m sure, as the kids get older, they may think this is totally lame, but hey, it’s working now.)
- MAD LIBS: Our boys LOVE Mad Libs and we’ve found that the dinner table is one of the best places for us to act ridiculous as a family. There are few rules when it comes to the libs, and therefore our kids feel like they’re getting away with something, like saying “poop” every time someone asks for a noun. Then we laugh hysterically together when the story is read back. Obviously, the boys are accidentally learning, which is a bonus. (I mean, really. One of these times Asher is bound to remember what an adjective is. Right? RIGHT?)
- SPECIFIC school day QUESTIONS: Open-ended questions don’t seem to go over well with our kids. How was school? gets an I don’t know or a I don’t remember, leaving us nothing. The dinner table is a time when we are more intentional about our questions, keeping them specific, like, Did you play with Wyatt at recess today? or we lighten things up and get the ball rolling with something like, So, did you happen to learn anything about how iguanas today or was the focus more on how underwear is made? (I know, we’re children too.)
- FAMILY MEETING: This sounds totally lame, but we find that we are way too often on different pages with the “rules” if we don’t do this every once and a while. We keep it light and have a sense of humor about it and we intentionally give the kids some power in this discussion. They’re free to share what changes they’d like to see, what they think we do well as a family or what they don’t like. This doesn’t mean that they always get their way, but we listen to them and respect their opinions (even when ridiculous) and they know it. (This gives them the impression our family is a democracy when we parents secretly know it’s a dictatorship. bwaaahaahaaa)
- POWER DOWN: Leave your smart phones and all other electronic devices in another room and focus on each other. Maybe even shut them off! (I know. GASP!)