Make mealtimes a chance for family connection

Diane Sasser  |  10/28/2009 7:08:02 PM

News You Can Use Distributed 10/28/09

Today’s lifestyles might be causing people to miss out on the unique love and belonging that come from family bonds, according to LSU AgCenter family and child expert Diane Sasser.

“Yet, it’s never too late to start sharing and connecting with your family in a very intentional way,” Sasser says.

Mealtimes may be the answer for family members to connect. “We all need to eat, and most of us enjoy company rather than eating alone, so why not choose mealtime to touch base with the family?” the family expert suggests.

Starting such a ritual, however, might be easier said than done. “Imagine the looks on your family members’ faces if you walked into the room and suddenly announced, ‘Let’s start eating all of our dinners together,’” Sasser says.

Your spouse or significant other might wonder what got into you, your teenagers might object because of football practice, dance team or job responsibilities, and everyone may wonder if they’re supposed to wait for you on the nights you work late.

“My recommendation is to start gradually by introducing the idea of family meals not as something you orchestrate but as something the family works out together,” Sasser says.

She recommends helping family members see there is something for everyone in this ritual. You might bring up a previous occasion when the family gathered for a meal or other get-together that was positive. Tell them about the feeling you had in seeing your family together, talking and laughing and learning more about each other.

“In promoting family mealtime as something the family does together, you might suggest doing it on a trial basis,” Sasser advises, adding, “If it passes muster, negotiate specifics, such as on what days or which meals to eat together, like weekend breakfasts or dinners only.”

One of the “musts” is that family members agree to keep the conversations positive, Sasser insists. Any conflicts should be resolved in a family meeting or one-on-one, but not at mealtime.

One ritual might be that everyone sits at assigned seats, or everyone trades off sitting at the head of the table. “Whatever the ritual includes, make the occasion fun, and remember the purpose is to have everyone get to know one another better,” Sasser says.

“All this might sound contrived, but in today’s busy world, we must be very deliberate and focused even in our fun times together, but not so strict that others are uncomfortable,” she notes.

So how do you even plan to bring up the subject of making mealtimes truly family times? Sasser says to choose a time for discussion when the household is at peace. Trying to bring up something like this during a family conflict is a sure way to kill a potentially positive idea. Explain to your family that you would like to discuss making a habit of having time together as a family unit, and perhaps that time should be mealtime, once or twice a week at a minimum.

Express how important family time is to you and how it would benefit the whole family, both collectively and individually. Maybe say, “I enjoy when we have time just to talk about our days. We can do that while we eat. It gives me as a parent time to spend with each of you. I’m always interested in what you have to say.”

Then ask your family about their thoughts on this. They might have even better ideas on how it all can happen. Rather than pushing your needs, suggest there could be a way to have family dinners more often than you do currently.

Tweak the idea if the family mealtime does work, but be willing to try a new routine if it doesn’t. “Be flexible but purposeful in your plans,” Sasser says.

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Editor: Mark Claesgens

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