I read this comic.
I nodded as I understood the universality of electronics taking the place of family conversation at mealtime.
I smirked at the chaos that ensued afterwards.
And then a sinking feeling pulled at my stomach after reading the last block.
How about teaching your kids to behave
at the dinner table?
Parents: WAKE UP!
Growing up, my family ate dinner separately. Crazy schedules left us with everyone eating at different times and my dad’s health kick meant he prepared meals for one. Being the oldest child, it often fell to me to make the Hamburger Helper or bologna sandwiches for my younger brother and sister, unless my mom picked up fast food on her way home.
We retreated to her bedroom and the three of us piled on her bed, sitting cross-legged, plates on our laps, watching television and talking about our day.
Or we if sat at the table, it was in silence, probably because I had a book in my hand.
I don’t have fond mealtime memories with my family. And that makes me sad.
As parents of small children, my husband and I quickly fell into the habit of letting the boys watch a show as they ate dinner while we retreated to the privacy of our family room (a.k.a. “the back room”) and watched a different show.
However, we were convicted of this when we’d take the boys to a restaurant and they went crazy unless we pulled the “electronic babysitters” out of our pockets and purses. We’d smile and shake our heads at each other at the blissful silence that followed and say, “What did parents ever do before iPads?”
Oh yeah, they parented.
I don’t want to raise children that don’t know how to behave in public. I don’t want to reward bad behavior with handheld video games and movies.
So we said, “enough is enough.”
We’re busy people. You probably are, too. But we decided that time together as a family was more important so we made mealtime valuable.
“Studies show that the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use.”
It was a slow process. During the summer our schedules changed daily and eating as a family wasn’t entirely conducive. We could have done it, but laziness and tiredness were our excuses. We were adamant that when school started, nightly meal times would begin as well.
So during the summer, Sunday lunch was together at the table and we started making the boys sit at the table for all meals.
Now that school is in session again, I feel like we have our routine back. I thrive on routine.
Dinner is consistently around the same time every night and the boys don’t even ask to watch television while they eat.
Our kids eat more, which means more veggies are in their tummies.
This is a huge win since our middle child is a horrible eater. Our kids have to ask to be excused and they have to wait until mealtime is over before they can get up from the table.
We talk more.
There’s never lack of voices in our household, but at mealtime we focus our topics on our days. They are learning to share classroom experiences and give us decent answers instead of “fine,” “good,” and “nothing.”
Our kids behave better.
We talk about manners and praise them for eating over their plates, using their napkins, keeping their hands above the table, and being respectful. We’re not embarrassed at their behavior at restaurants anymore.
Mealtime is relaxing now.
I love looking around our table and seeing the beautiful faces of my kids and husband as we share a meal together. Jesus was always eating with people and the Bible talks about a banquet feast in heaven. Food is more than nutrition and nourishment for the body. I think it’s good for the soul. I feel a closeness to my family when we sit down to dinner that I didn’t even know I was missing.
The rest of the evening is calmer.
I call the time between 4 and 6 PM the “witching hour.” I’m cooking dinner, finishing up projects, my oldest is home from school and stir-crazy, he’s trying to get out of homework, the younger two are waking up from naps, everyone’s hungry, Justin’s coming home and almost always we have somewhere to be in the evening. BUSY BUSY BUSY.
The “witching hour” isn’t as crazy anymore and now it’s only from when my eldest gets home until dinner. Afterwards we clean up the kitchen, go to our respective obligations, get books read, children bathed, teeth brushed and put them in bed.
It’s almost like dinner as a family gives us time to reset. It’s not always a long time. Sometimes we sit, eat, and get up in fifteen minutes. But’s it’s a quality fifteen minutes.
We want our children to look back and remember family mealtime as a wonderful experience. As they get older, we want our house to be a welcoming place for them to bring friends over to share a meal. And one day when our kids are grown and out of the house, they’ll make mealtime a priority with their families.
…and hopefully invite us over, as well. *wink
I commend you & Justin for this huge undertaking. My father worked construction (in northern Minnesota) while I was growing up. His long summer work hours kept him away from the dinner table many a nights. My min tried holding dinner until he got home so we could all eat together, but after one of the 3 of us kids falling asleep in our plates she opted to feed us kids earlier. He would wait to eat with my dad, but always sat down at the table while us kids ate. I continued this when I had my son. Despite objections from his father – we ALWAYS ate at the table. No TV, no game boys, nintendos or other electronic distracters. I started taking him to nice restaurants very young. Manners were expected no matter where we were. Unlike many young moms I see now, I always had things to keep him occupied (crayons & paper, hot wheels cars, Legos…etc). It would be a bit entertaining to pull out my wallet to pay and have action figures hanging off the sides or grab a "pen" to write a check and it was a red crayon! But he was able to keep himself entertained if I was visiting. Granted this was in the days before iPads and Nintendo ds…but there were still parents who didn't parent them. Now 20+ years later we still relive some of the memories and conversations from those years. Keep it it sister….it is worth the efforts!
Love your story. I too, often find Hot Wheels and little "men" in my purse when I'm trying to find something! What precious memories!!