Sidenote: A companion piece to this post, entitled “Cooking Up a Storm Makes You a Better Coder”, can be found over on my personal blog.
The Importance of Family Dinners
This goes back through the ages. History has proven that families make strong societies. One of the best ways for families to be strong is to have dinner together. I know our church leaders have been saying it for decades.
Now, for most of 2010, I was gone from the home. I didn’t have the opportunity to eat dinner with my family, but I did spend most dinners with friends. I don’t mind eating lunch alone, but dinners to me have always meant people. I give great thanks to my parents for instilling that into me. I’m not sure they were trying to do that, but they did and I’m eternally grateful.
Starting Traditions is Hard to Do
I have a 4-year-old. When I was gone this past year, I’m guessing there was a lot of eating dinner while watching TV. It makes sense since I was gone and it probably wasn’t easy to have dinner at the table in silence. I’m the blabbermouth, so it would’ve stayed pretty quiet without me. Suffice to say, he likes to eat with the TV on. My 6-year-old was of the same belief. However, he is old enough to understand things.
Therefore, when I started up this tradition of family dinner time with no TV it was hard. Both kids said, “Why do we have to do this?” The 4-year-old started crying because he didn’t understand why he couldn’t watch TV. I told them, “But Daddy wants to talk with you. I want you to tell me all about your days.” It didn’t really change things at first.
The first few days, my youngest excused himself rather quickly and went back to the TV. While me, my wife and oldest tried to find our groove. After a few weeks, the crying stopped and only occasionally would there be griping.
One day, my youngest asked, “Why can’t we watch TV?” I’ll never forget that day, because my oldest answered: “But Eli, Dad wants to talk to us. He wants us to tell him about school and our day.” My oldest didn’t say it with sarcasm, he used emotions and emphasis that made it clear this was something important to him and something his little brother should be excited about. I made the decision right then and there to make sure to never let this tradition die.
Tell You Family Why It’s Important and Make It Important
A lot of families try this and many give up. I think they find that it’s too hard. If you find yourself in that predicament, may I offer up some advice:
- Tell them it’s important – A lot of parents try to start this tradition but they don’t tell the family why. Many kids feel it’s a punishment, because it sorta is (see next point). However, you need to tell them in plain English at the start, “I care about you and I want to know how you feel. I want you to tell me about your day because every day of your life is important to me.”
- Show them it’s important – It’s kind of hard to take parents seriously about dinner if they’re constantly checking their phone, lost in thought about work or hog up all the conversation. This is time for your kids to do most of the talking. Give them the opportunity to open up and share what they’re thinking. It make take a while to get them out of their shells, but when they emerge, it’s a glorious thing.
- Make it important – We all lead busy lives, so I think having a set time for dinner is a bit too much. Just agree on Sunday, or even that morning, what time dinner will be on various days. The meals need not be fancy, because the food isn’t the important thing: getting together is the important thing.
Cooking with your Family
I made homemade pasta with my boys the other night. I thought it would be fun for them to help roll and cut the fettuccine in the pasta machine and it was. Yeah, it slowed the process down a bit, little muscles don’t work as fast as big ones. Yeah, there was fighting over who’s turn it was to use the pasta machine, but they worked it out. Yeah, it made dinner later than normal, but they had fun. That’s all that was important…or was it?
I noticed two things:
- The boys ate what they made. They didn’t just nibble on it, they ate a big serving. They even ate broccoli as an appetizer. I don’t know if this will work with everything we make together, but it was definitely a good start.
- Teamwork makes for stronger bonds. This was the thing that surprised me most. Now, my boys like to play with each other. They usually last an hour or so before fighting. However, after making dinner, they played for a good 2.5 to 3 hours without one fight. We eventually had to go to bed and there was no fighting there either. We went and lied down without complaint.
Now, I’m not saying that having them cook will be an everyday occurrence. I sure hope to make it one though. If those 2 traits are even slightly improved with each cooking session, that’s more than enough reason to give it a try. Granted, not all recipes have opportunities for little hands, but I’m sure we can add something to the menu they can help with.