Gift of the Family Dinner Table

“DINNER TIME!” 

“Sorry, we have to go, but we’ll be back to play after.” 

“Ugh! You guys won’t be back for ‘like an hour’. Your family takes FOREVER to eat dinner!” 

This played out almost every night in our neighborhood. We’d get called in for dinner, our friends would complain about how long it would take us before we’d be back and we’d head in to eat dinner as a family. We always returned to play after, even when it had been ‘like an hour.’

Our neighbor friends were right: we did take a long time for dinner. It wasn’t that we were slow eaters. It was because we loved our family meals together. It was our time to check in about our days, make jokes, talk about past memories, make future plans, and simply be together. Although my mom worked full time, she was able to work from home which provided the freedom to prep dinner when she took breaks. She always had a plan, even if it was just planned leftovers. We knew everyday we’d have a good dinner and have time together as a family. EVERYDAY.

I have many fabulous memories from my childhood. The family dinner table is definitely a space that many of those great memories started. The feelings of consistency, laughter, joy, grounding and love will last in my mind forever.  

When my husband and I had our first baby we couldn’t wait to have him join the family dinner table…even at only a couple days old there he was right with us as we talked about our day, made jokes, talked about past memories, made future plans and simply had time together. This ritual has continued for our family. Of course there are days that we miss this due to sports or work schedules, but we all feel better when we make the time for it.

Last week my dad was very ill and hospitalized. My siblings, my mom and I were navigating some frustrating health circumstances and it was stressful on all of us. As I step back to think about all the communication we needed to navigate last week, I can’t help but think many of these skills were built at our family dinner table during our childhood.

My parents probably didn’t even consciously think about what they were providing their family by making the time for family meals. At that time, it’s just what they knew from their own childhood. What they gave us though was one of the best gifts a family can get: the gift of time, consistency, a space to dream and reminisce, a sense of belonging, grounding, and love. 

Through all the different stages we’ve gone through as a family: teen years, college years, dating years, parenting our own kids (little and now teens), we’ve always centered our gatherings around a family meal. What a gift to have them still last ‘like an hour’! 

Every family has to get creative with their family scheduling. If dinner isn’t the time your family can be together, then hopefully there are other times your family can connect during the week. For families with parents that travel for work, even more creativity is needed. I’ve heard great stories of families setting up their iPad to FaceTime the out of town parent as they all share a meal “together” and others commit to all meals as a family on the weekend when they’re not traveling for work. There are many ways to grow well-connected families.