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Dinner, it can still connect a family

Contributed by Melanie Miller, M.Ed. and Jody McVittie, MD

As the school year settles in, the activities start up. Football practice, piano lessons, curriculum nights, work meetings and so much more fill up our evenings. As we try to juggle the schedule and find time to sit down to dinner, it can get really difficult. Research shows that children from families that eat together are more apt to do well in school and less apt to get involved in early drug and alcohol use.

I wonder why that is?

Could it be that enjoying a meal together provides a sense of belonging; a sense of connection to who we are in regards to those closest to us? I have many memories of my childhood dinner table. It’s where I got to connect with my many brothers whose lives were filled with high school activities, sports, and debate teams. It’s where I learned about the politics of the day….the controversy of the Vietnam war and the latest release from The Beatles. It is where I learned what was of value to my family; not because anyone told me what those values were, but because, in the topics discussed, I gained a clear picture of what was important and what was not.

It is at this table that I made my first connection to a group. It is where I felt love and belonging, encouragement and pride to be a part of my “clan”. It is where I found connection and role models with the siblings I looked up to. I had a place at the table…and so did everyone else. It was the time that we all came together and were reminded of where we came from and who we were becoming. Life wasn’t always perfect in my family, but it was those early dinners that anchored me to what is important in life and what is not. It’s why I work so hard to build connection times into my current family’s day, and dinner has become one of those times. It’s not easy to drift from a group when you’re meeting on a regular basis and you have a sense of connection to those present.

So, as you sit down to dinner tonight, think about the gifts you’re providing yourself and your children. Knowing how much it can benefit your family could it be a priority? Are you willing to let another group, be it a football team, an evening work meeting or a ringing phone interfere with the feeling of connection and belonging that your children feel as they enjoy a meal with you?

Hints for building dinners together.
Take it slowly. If having dinners together has not been your family’s practice go slow. Aim for 2-3 times a week to start with. Then add more.
It isn’t the food that counts. The food doesn’t have to be fancy or even home cooked (though that is fun). What is important is sitting down together.
Electronics interfere. Turn off the TV. Don’t answer phones or allow texting at the table. Make this a time to be together.
Connecting can take practice. If your family is not used to talking or sharing around the table start with stories from your childhood. Your children are interested in where you came from. If you have fond memories about their childhoods share those. (Avoid stories that are embarrassing to your children.)
Listen. Invite your children to tell you what they remember.
Sharing the day. Invite sharing about things in the day that made you feel good – and not so good. You can start by sharing your day (briefly) first.
Share pieces of you. As the space becomes safer you can share and invite sharing about things that touch you, move you or inspire you. Share how you fix your mistakes or a challenge that you are working on. That will create space for your children to share more of their lives too.

Do you need more reasons to have a family dinner? Check out this article at

There is also a lovely photo essay of family dinners in the October 2 issue of the New York Times.

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