A couple of years ago, I was speaking with a gentleman who told me about a tradition in his family that would come to shape some of the traditions in mine. He explained that his mother would read books aloud to the family during dinnertime! This put into action a thought process that would lead me to dramatically change my family's dinnertime dynamics.
As a father of four, I began to ask myself: “How am I doing with my family? What are my wife and I doing to prepare our children for their future? Are we using dinnertime as a tool to build our family?”
In seeking answers, I found this interesting comment in a publication from the Wellspring Center for Prevention: “For many families, eating dinner together has become a lost art—but it proves to be a simple, effective way to reduce the risk of youth substance abuse and to raise healthier children.… Eating dinner together every night keeps the doors of communication open. It’s the perfect time and place to reconnect and to show your kids that they are your priority. Sitting across the table is where and when you can find out more about your children’s likes, dislikes, and daily life. Having this information can help you direct your children toward positive activities and behavior, reducing the likelihood that they will get involved with alcohol, tobacco, and/or illegal drugs.”
Other research has shown that the simple act of eating together as a family provides the structure for adolescents to live truly healthy lives: "Family meals offer routine and consistency and provide an opportunity to socialize children and teach them about communication skills, manners, nutrition, and good eating habits." Eating together, consistently, becomes a chance to converse and socialize, and this is among the most important of benefits from family meals.
However, although sharing dinner together is a start, how we do so is even more important. Alix Spiegel, in a February 7, 2008 Morning Edition report from NPR, reported that it is not so much the dinner itself that causes these positive effects. She explained that it is linked more to the “quality of conversation” during meal times, and that the “content of dinner” is also important. Families that benefited most from eating together were those that maintained “complex conversation, rich with explanation, story telling and more.”
Through others’ examples, my wife and I have learned just how important it is to guide conversations during dinner. This can be done through asking simple questions about one another’s day. Even more, conversation can be stimulated by asking questions that “test” our children, provoking thought. By asking them questions, we allow our children to stretch their imaginations, to articulate their thoughts and to express themselves. As their parents, we also learn more about them.
Reading books together, after some good conversation, can also help to guide the positive direction of this vital family time. It provides a wonderful platform for our children to ask questions about words or situations they do not understand, and encourages meaningful interaction between family members. Through books, they will learn about people and places that they may not have otherwise learned about. Sharing this quality time with your children can help develop their imagination and thoughts in the direction you want them to go!
By providing a thoughtful, productive platform for family members to interact during dinnertime, we are laying a foundation of happiness and success for our children. By challenging our children through thought-provoking conversation and reading—during or after dinner—we are shaping their futures.
Raising children is one of the greatest opportunities parents are given in this life. It can be one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of life. God requires us to make every effort in raising “godly offspring” (Malachi 2:15). We are preparing them to fulfill their greatest potential. As fathers and mothers, this is our true responsibility!
Family is more than just the physical. It is at the heart of God's plan for us all. Start learning more about this, and how to strengthen your family relationships today. Please read and order your free copy of Successful Parenting: God’s Way, and be sure to check out "Does Family Matter?"