The last Monday in September is “Family Day,” an annual event aimed at encouraging families to “make time for family time,” including meals. The positive benefits of this powerful parenting strategy are clear and wide-ranging, and the Communities That Care Coalition of Franklin County has been getting the word out about it for years. You can find research and resources at www.casafamilyday.org and at www.thefamilydinnerproject.org.
When we’ve surveyed local families, it’s been apparent that local parents understand the importance of family meals; most parents and teens in our area report eating together frequently. However, we also know that on a day-to-day basis in our own households, family meals can sometimes be mighty hard to pull off — and what “family time” actually looks like in different homes is splendidly diverse.
For instance, in my family, we have two adults who work full-time outside of home and two young people who are students and athletes in middle and high school. We all get home around 5:30 on school nights, and we can only eat dinner together 50% of the time, because we have shared custody. Because of this schedule, we prioritize being home for dinner and preparing home-cooked, healthy meals on “our nights;” but I bet our routine would look different if we were able to eat together more frequently.
I asked some friends and neighbors in the Gill-Montague Community School Partnership Facebook Group to share advice and observations about how family meals work in their homes. Here are some excerpts from that thread. You are welcome to join the group to read the whole thing, which includes strategies for picky and slow eaters and time management. You can add your own tips, too!)
My husband and I tend to talk about our day and my son is encouraged to participate by asking questions at appropriate times, but not interrupt. Hopefully he reciprocates when we ask him about his day. We don’t need a play by play, but try to encourage him to share 1 or 2 things even if it’s just whether he liked school lunch or whatever special he had that day. ~ Parent of a kindergartner
We tried an activity at dinner where each person shares something that was “sunny” about their day, “stormy” about their day and something they are looking forward to. It’s based off a game a friend recommended to me. We loved it. It’s a great way to talk about the ups and downs of the day. ~ Parent of two elementary schoolers
I saw my job as training them for life- eating in public and with people they were not related to. We all started and finished eating together, for the most part. ~ Parent of two college students
It’s a rare occasion when we’re all home at dinner time. (Usually I’m the one missing it 😥). However when we are, TV goes off. No phones. We sit at the dining room table together. We don’t start eating until everyone is there and we don’t leave the table until we make sure it’s okay with everyone else. Sounds sort of old fashioned, but it’s nice. ~ Parent of three, two in elementary, one in middle school
Plus here’s one response from a friend who didn’t respond in the group, but did give me permission to share here:
We developed this list of “family table manners agreements” together with our child about a year ago. We made the list together as a family and some of it is pretty random but most of it is “no screens,” “no toys,” “clear your plate,” etc. It’s kind of random and weird … If I were generating a list from scratch I would use different language and use a different balance of do’s and don’t’s… but this is also real and what evolved over time. ~ Parent of a kindergartner