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Home For Dinner!
  by Win and Bill Sweet

          One day our son, Jim, came home from high school and seriously complained about having to be home for dinner. As had often happened, his buddies were going to a restaurant that he liked, and he wanted to go with them. Win told him she understood perfectly how he felt, but in the bigger picture of his life and the family welfare, it was really important that we be together for dinner. She started to explain some of the deeper reasons, but he interrupted with a smile and said, "Mom, I do know it's important, and I'm really glad that you and Dad care enough about me to want me here for dinner. Thanks." Then, with a chuckle, he added, "But isn’t a kid like me supposed to complain about things like that?"

          The policy "the family has dinner together" had been taken for granted in our family until the children were in high school. Then for the first time it was challenged. We were astonished that many of the families in our community did not practice this simple method of creating and maintaining family support and solidarity. One of Jim's best friends, Scott, never had to be home for a meal. His mother sometimes prepared food and put it in the refrigerator for her children to eat when and if they wished, but they were also given money to eat out whenever and wherever they wanted. "Everyone was doing it" was a common phrase. Probably many parents tried to make dinner together work, but couldn't make it happen because of the influence of the culture, otherwise known as "peer pressure."

          It is discouraging when we, as parents, try to present to our children, or provide for them, something we know is valuable, and they reject it. Often it takes a lot of planning and attention to develop ways to get around society's influence. Setting a goal to make the experience of eating together as a family something that no one wants to miss is of paramount importance. Some of the elements that bring the family together include a playful atmosphere, humor, surprises, lighthearted conversation, and playing games that fit in with the dynamics of a family gathered for dinner.

         There are as many ways to introduce the idea as there are families. Having a family council meeting to talk the idea over may work well for your family. On the other hand, just doing it may be better. Follow your heart.

          One of our dinner time goals has been that everyone leaves the table feeling at least a little better, and a little more joyful than when the meal began. There are lots of ways to facilitate this. When we were actively parenting, we always declared silently as the family was gathering, "This will be a joyful meal." It’s amazing how "setting the tone" makes a difference. Sometimes we asked everyone in the family to bring a joke or tell something funny that happened or that they heard about. We deliberately did not talk about negative things in the family or in the world during this precious time together. We took time during the meal to hear about everyone's life and to praise or support efforts, accomplishments, dreams, and hopes. And the more we laughed, the better it was!

          When Mom calls, "Dinner is ready!" many children, of all ages, are afraid to come to the table for fear there will be some sort of verbal attack, nasty surprise, or the doling out of punishment or unwelcome edicts. To use mealtime in this way is common family practice in our society; therefore, it is no wonder that so many of the older children try their best to miss dinner.

          One of the ways to turn this attitude around is to adopt this principle:

         Dinner time is kept free of controversial or uncomfortable issues and is not used as an opportunity to criticize, discipline, hash over tragic world events, resolve difficult problems or watch television.

          There are so many positive and fun ways to make the mealtime count toward joyful family living. Don't forget to include in the list of possibilities the unexpected surprise, humor, and favorite foods.

          Positive feelings developed from happy past meals together can make the mealtime a pleasantly anticipated event. But making this happen doesn't have to be the sole responsibility of the Mom or whoever does the cooking. It’s more meaningful to find a way to include "donations" from different members of the family at different times. Dinner together doesn’t have to be a big production in order to be a positive, happy, and supportive experience. Once the idea gets going, it is amazing how spontaneously the fun elements of the mealtime can happen.

         Your children may not yet be mature enough to consciously appreciate the value of family dinner time, but if you carry along your expectation of dinner together and create a positive, joyful experience for the family, eventually the children will be able to step away from the cultural concepts of their peers and come to value your family policy as Jim did. Be patient and know that if the benefit is invisible to them now, someday they may see it. Even if they don't directly get the connection, the benefit is there and will operate on some level for them.

         Having dinner together is a critically important opportunity for a family to take one, even small, step during that meal toward a more harmonious and joyful family relationship. There is also the beneficial opportunity to help the children in subtle ways to build an emotional reserve of values and of feeling valued as they savor being honored in this family atmosphere. Among other things, they learn what it is like to value and deliberately create a pleasant and joyful environment that benefits body, mind, and spirit.




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