Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Significance of Dinner

I love the Norman Rockwell painting of the family eating Thanksgiving dinner together. It just gives you a warm feeling inside to see them all seated together around the dinner table, connecting, and enjoying each other's company. As a structural family therapist, I have always been a big fan of eating dinner together as a family. As the fall season continues, it gives us a new chance to get healthy patterns about dinnertime going again that may have gotten disrupted over the summer.

These are busy times, and much of our day we are headed in different directions from our families: to work, school, lessons, sports, errands, etc. Dinner is more than about the food. It is the emotional connecting point of the day. Whether you have a family with children still at home, or have just a partner, sitting down together and breaking bread is a big deal. It gives you time to share a little about your day and adventures, and to hear about the day that your loved ones have had.

Get everyone involved in setting or clearing the table, cooking, serving, or cleaning up. Have age-appropriate expectations. If you have little ones with you, dinner may only get to last 10 minutes, but older children may do well with 20 minutes. Being a part of the family means helping with this evening ritual. It is something you can each look forward to. If you have a faith, take turns sharing a prayer or having a word of gratefulness before eating. You are the architect of your family, and you can decide to give your family more meaning and connection. This is just one of many ways to be intentional about making your home and your family a close, loving, and connected place that nurtures each of you.

Families are busy, and we need to be realistic. Family dinner may not be possible every night, but make it happen as often as you can. Even 3 or 4 nights a week makes a significant connection.

Keep it positive. Adults need to not whine and complain about work or other things. Set a positive tone, and take an interest in each person's day. Michelle Obama has explained how in the First Family, she asks each family member to share the rose (best part) and thorn (worst part) of their day. Sometimes I have everyone at my house share the funniest thing that occurred all day, or the most interesting. Don't use dinner as a time to lecture or berate. There are some terrific boxes of questions that children often enjoy as a part of the dinner ritual, too.

Even if you live alone, you can still make dinner time positive and sacred self-care time. Turn off the television. (Dinner should be a technology and phone-free zone.) Turn on some music. Eat slowly. Eat with reverence. Enjoy the experience. Light a candle. Use the china. You're worth it. This is about being your own best friend, whether you live alone or not. There is an emotional and spiritual aspect to eating in a reverent way, seated, not rushed, and aware.

Researchers, family therapists, and smart families agree- families that have dinner together multiple times per week are closer. Children and teens behave more responsibly and are better students. Fight to keep this important connecting point,the evening meal, as glue in your family. You'll be glad you did.

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