The traditional image of a family gathering around the dinner table is becoming more and more of a myth—and that’s for several reasons.
As jobs change and form over time, working a traditional 9-5 job is being tossed aside for variable hours, second shifts, and freelance work. Aside from this seismic shift in the economy, technology inundating our lives has made it more difficult to gather together without a screen involving itself in the process.
As adults, we’re more and more pulled by our phones for the latest news concerning our jobs, our politics, or other affairs. Children are increasingly entertained by their gadgets as well—resulting in further erosion of the older way of approaching dinner time.
None of this is to say technology is corrupting—but rather distracting us from the value and connection that we can build as family units. We have to find ways to not only make a family meal a high priority—but ways to make sure the family desires to spend time together. It’s no easy task.
We’ll be going over simple tips and ideas you can try with your family to make family meal time a priority once again. By involving each member of the family and showcasing why a traditional gathering beats the alternative, we can make family meal time fun again.
Approaching A Complicated Problem
Making family meal time fun again is not going to be as simple as banning cell phones from the dinner table or barring any events around the evening.
The reason why family dinner doesn’t happen anymore is complicated—and will be specific to your family. It’s going to involve asking some tough questions about not only the schedules of your children—but your schedule as well.
As with other priorities, if we’re not actively and passionately pursuing family dinner, the idea will erode itself over time. Does your family eat together often? Does your family each together enough for your satisfaction?
Asking these questions will help you begin to diagnose the problem.
Perhaps your work schedule requires you to work nights and weekends—thus removing the possibility of a family meal time altogether. Or, maybe a child in extracurricular activities like football or marching band will be limited in their ability to skip practice and show up for a meal.
In these cases, we’ll need to be a little more flexible. Perhaps family meal time needs to happen earlier in the day—or in some cases, during lunch instead of dinner. Maybe the weekends are impossible to manage, so meals will only remain communal during the weekdays.
Only you know your specific situation—and likewise, only you will be able to uncover how possible meal times will be on your current schedule.
If you’ve determined that meal time is impossible altogether, it may be time to make some tough choices about the items in your schedule preventing this change. Weighing the value of a moment with family and the value of a job or a shift won’t be easy—but will begin to help you understand just what it will take to achieve your goals.
A Shift In Perspective
Once we’ve determined the ‘when’ and the ‘how’ of family meal time, we need to approach the question of ‘why.’
There is no doubt that establishing and enforcing when meals are to be held together will result in some pushback—especially from older children and teenagers.
The assumed independence of teenagers—on top of a personal feeling of agency—will have your children asking tough questions about the need for family meal time. These questions need to be answered with something other than enforcement of family loyalty.
Talk to your family unit about the concerns you have regarding your collective bond—and how something as simple as the family eating dinner together will begin to cultivate an atmosphere of togetherness that you guys may not have currently.
Instead of focusing on dictating new rules and regulations, focus on the positives. Sell your idea of dinner time as a pitch rather than a decree. You may find your children has more to suggest then you initially expected.
Involvement & Engagement
Getting the family to agree to meals together is one thing—but making sure it’s exciting and fun for everyone is another.
Delegating tasks to certain individuals will not only involve everyone in the family—but naturally, keep the influence of devices at bay.
For instance—see if the meal you plan to make each night has a recipe simple enough for your children to follow. Allow smaller children to read instructions off to you, and older children to assist with mixing and food preparation.
You can also use technology to your advantage—playing music from some of the family’s favorite artists to sing along to and make the kitchen exciting again.
If you’ve implemented these changes to success, don’t stop here—but rather keep moving forward with personal investment with meals.
Older children may be interested in trying out dishes and meals they hear of from friends and through the media. Nominating a certain day of the week as ‘kid’s day’ will allow your kids to try meals they’re interested in enjoying—and hopefully, expand the family’s palette.
How possible this is to execute this suggestion comes down to your home’s financial situation, but the more you allow your kids to pick the meals (provided they are healthy), the more you can foster an interest in the culinary arts.
Changing Up The Conversation
The question most people dread at the dinner table has to be “how was your day?”
That’s for a very good reason—this line of thinking and questioning, however genuine, can make table talk boring and one-dimensional.
If we want to make meal time fun again, we need to try out some different approaches to conversations.
Take an active interest in your family’s interests—be it bands and movies, sports, or other arts. Try to ‘study up’ on these subjects to present your kids with a conversation that they’re passionate about.
Likewise, you can propose hypothetical questions and scenarios that challenge the way your kids think. Help your children explore complicated subjects like integrity, financial independence, and honor in a medium they best understand.
A Roundabout Approach to Technology
By trying to best approach conversation and arranging for meal times to occur on certain days, we can hope to promote a media-free environment without ever having to confiscate a cell phone.
Technology limitation is nebulous—while we know that media is distracting and perhaps damaging in large doses, removing technology completely can and will come across as a punishment. Family meal time can never be fun if it’s perceived in this manner.
That’s why focusing on fun chatter and involvement in the making of the meals will remove the technology for you.
We’re all naturally drawn to what entertains us or rewards us most—so if your meal times are boring and mundane, children and adults alike will naturally be drawn to the cell phone.
Do the best you can to create a technology-free environment without the rules—but if it’s not possible, try setting a clear boundary and sticking to it.
Having a simple rule like ‘no phones in the kitchen’ will make it easy for your kids to remember what needs to be followed.
Like most rules, hypocrisy is the quickest route to rebellion—which means, if you set a rule, you’ll be required to follow it yourself.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. Encourage your children to enforce the rules for yourself as well—calling you out when you try to bring work and other obligations into the sacred space of the kitchen.
Universally-enforced rules will instill an environment in which the family policies itself. We can think of no easier way to keep your kitchen consistently media-free.
There will be nights where rebellious children circumvent meal time or bring their technology to the dinner table. There will be nights when work keeps us from coming home on time, and each member of the family will eat on their own time.
Consistency needs to be kept to enforce the idea of family meal time—but don’t be surprised with life decides to throw you a curveball. Flexibility in the schedule is key—and in a world that’s constantly vying for your attention, changing up the rules to match the circumstances is the only way to retain something as specific as a family meal.
So bust out the cookbook, invite the kids to pick out their favorite recipes, and start working towards an environment that’s ripe for interesting conversation and new experiences. Chances are—you won’t regret it.