How to Stay Connected as a Family

March 29, 2013

A 21st century family lifestyle is often filled with a long list of ‘to-dos’. Errands, soccer games, dance lessons, doctor appointments, school meetings, etc.…all in addition to work and school. How is there enough time in the day for it all? And how do you stay connected as a family along the way? By adding one more thing to your ‘to-do’ list…believe it or not.

During my career in social work, I was introduced to the importance of a community dining together regularly. A specific number of meals per week were mandated in foster care group homes and residential therapeutic communities that I observed. If there was ever tension or strong disagreements within these communities, the first question asked by a counselor was “how many times a week are you eating together?” Every single time, it was revealed that the community had stopped eating together prior to falling out with one another. This observation came in handy later in my career as a parent.

When my children were younger and not involved in five million activities, eating together was not a problem. These were the days when I sometimes longed for a meal without them! As they got older, we all became busier and sharing meals became less common.

At one particular point, my past experience came to mind and I wondered if it could have a positive impact in our home. As the stay-at-home mom and coordinator of plans, I set out to make this happen. My initial goal was three meals a week together. The difference it made was instantly apparent. We grew closer, learned more about each other, the girls started to ask us (their parents) more about our days, there was more laughter in our home and we felt more like a team.

I love the episode in Weeds where Nancy (the mom) brings home take-out fried chicken and announces there is to be family dinner and all are required to be there. After getting significant push back from both sons and their uncle, she screams through clenched teeth, “We are eating together as a family if I have to kill every one of you!”

Now, I must say, I recommend taking a slightly different approach than Nancy did in this scene. And I relate to her because there were times when I felt I had to really hold a line to keep this going. Admittedly, there were weeks when three times could not work and I held firm to at least one…I call this being flexible and organic. 😉 There were also times when family dinnertime elicited much grumbling, pouting, and unpleasant rebellious behaviors and I did not waver. With an empathetic acknowledgement, I held firm and it worked for all of us in the long run.

It can be so easy to lose sight in the midst of all the doing and forget that family comes first. Children feel lost without a strong sense of community and act this out in a myriad of ways. Family is the ‘home base’ we all seek that can support, enrich and uplift us.

I propose trying this in your home and see if it makes a difference for your family. Choose a reasonable number of times per week for your family’s schedule, let everyone in the house know, and get to it! Remember, meals do not have to be elaborate. Take-out fried chicken is perfectly acceptable! This is about family being together.

If the silence is deafening and/or awkward at your table, try implementing conversation starters such as:

• everyone shares the best and worst moment of their day
• if you could be any animal, what would it be?
• if you were the principal, what would you change in your school?

I’ve also seen families enjoy dinnertime more by playing a game together. Trivia cards, Banana Grams, and Uno are some suggestions. This is about fun and togetherness. There is no way to get it wrong…only ways to bring family closer.

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