I hit the jackpot when I got married. My husband can cook—not only is he able, he’s good. On our first anniversary, he recreated the coconut French toast we had on our honeymoon. He makes a mean blackberry reduction with a pecan crusted chicken, and don’t get me started on his Coca-Cola cake. Oh man.
But there’s a problem. With the exception of the cake, these aren’t exactly kid friendly recipes. Instead, meal time is less about our discerning palate and more about survival. About trying to anticipate the needs of our children before we settle in to the table so we aren’t running a virtual relay race between the kitchen table, the refrigerator, the sink, the paper towels, and sometimes even the laundry room. Meal time at our house can quickly revert to just getting a basic need met, as opposed to a time that has any real sense of purpose.
The truth is, meal time will always be a challenge. During the younger years it’s a circus. As kids get older it becomes a scheduling feat to get everyone around the table. With little to no effort meal time can lose any potency it has fairly easily. And that means we have to fight for it.
So how do we make meal time matter?
Your Role: Teacher
Communication: Formal Discussion
Goal: Establish values
Meal time can often feel chaotic, but what if it was within our power to make it less that way? To start, get around the table. Turn off the TV. Leave your phones on the counter. Seriously. And start talking. Talk to your toddlers and your preschoolers, talk to your spouse, talk to your teenagers even if all you get are grunts and one word answers.
The goal of this time to establish your family values, so how do you do that? Begin by deciding (with your spouse if you’re married) what you want those values to be. Pick three things you want to represent your family. Maybe your kids developing a faith of their own is a given, so think of three other character based things to complement their faith. Do you want to be a family that celebrates respect? Honesty? Fun? Connection? Communication? Sports? Intelligence? Picking your top three doesn’t mean you don’t see the importance of other values, it just means you are going to work to elevate these three things.
Then use your time at the table to celebrate these things.
For example, let’s say you decided honesty was something your family was going to hold in high esteem. Instead of just telling your kids how important it is for them to be honest, try sharing some stories of your own. Maybe you learned something the hard way about being honest as a kid. Maybe you were challenged just this week in a situation where it would have been easier to be dishonest, but you took the high road, and can share with your kids the benefits and the challenges. Telling stories on yourself gives your kids insight into who you are, not just as a parent, but as a person, and gives them clues into why your family values what it does.
Younger kids love the chance to hear stories portraying their parents as kids once themselves. But teenagers need the chance to hear stories of their parents that make them more human and relatable—instead of just a distant authority figure.
But it does more than that too. Elevating values through your own experience allows your kids to see that the things you want so much for your kids to model in their lives are the things you are working hard to model in your own.
Ultimately, meal time is a win when it’s used to center your family. It can help you regroup, re-gather, and be reminded of your connection with each other and the things that make your family unique. As chaotic as things can sometimes feel, as maddening as your family can sometimes be, you are in it together. So make the time you have together strengthen your family, and become closer and more resilient than ever before.
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