Meals are a time for socializing, conversation, sharing, and celebration. Family meals can be powerful events in the lives of both children and adults. They can and should be an occasion for sharing the day’s events, decompressing, commiserating, and encouraging one another. They’re a time to laugh, learn how to speak and listen politely, instill values, establish one’s identity as a member of the family, welcome guests, and acknowledge God’s provision on a day-to-day basis.
How important and powerful is this experience of family togetherness at the dinner table? In a classic case of scientific research corroborating common sense, a 2010 study on “The Importance of Family Dinners” (published by Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) found that teens who have five to seven family dinners per week are twice as likely to receive higher grades in school (A’s or B’s) and three times likelier to say that they have excellent relationships with their parents. They’re also many times less prone to experiment with smoking, drinking, and drug abuse as compared with those who have fewer than three family meals a week.
The bible also has allot to say about intentional meal times! It is POWERFUL! So lets plan for these in advance!
Set aside three, if not more, nights per week (perhaps including a “cook’s day off” meal after church on Sunday) to be designated for family meals. The expectation is that “all hands will be on deck,” even young children, unless prior notice is given.
After considering the ages and abilities represented in your family, establish routines that will spread the work around, thus relieving mom of some of the burden of preparation. The tasks involved in planning the menu, preparing the various components of the meal, and cleaning up can be rotated among the able-bodied family members who are living at home. Younger children can learn to set the table. Everybody should help clear it.
Table manners (including such niceties as pulling out chairs for the ladies and waiting to eat until everyone is seated and grace has been said) can and should be encouraged.
Televisions should be turned off. Phones should be turned off, taken off the hook, or left unanswered. This is a time to talk to one another unhindered by the yammering of the tube or the demands of whomever decides to text or call you.
Speaking of talking: you don’t want to restrict topics of conversation too severely, but it’s wise to address hot family issues at some other time. If mealtimes become a hotbed of constant bickering and animosity, no one will want to show up. Ideally, the family table should be a place of warmth, respect, safety, genuine interest in what everyone has to say, and mutual support. If the kids are having trouble with this, some role-modeling of respectful conversation from Mom and Dad will speak volumes. If no one seems to have much to say, you can stir the pot with a few open-ended questions, such as, “What was the highlight of your day?” or “What didn’t go well today?”
Together we accomplish great things and Table Talk is a tool for one of those precious moments of time God choruses, meal time.