When I was growing up, my parents’ strategy to keep things calm at dinner in our family of ten was to have the kids sit on diner stools at a long counter facing windows instead of facing each other. It may have cut down on my brothers flicking peas at each other, but it didn’t foster dinner conversation. As adults, several of us have made eating dinner as family an important routine in our homes and found that dinner conversations help draw our families closer.
Starting and ending the meal with prayer is a beautiful way to draw your family together. Prayer changes the atmosphere and pulls us away from the distractions and petty disagreements so often experienced within families.
At our home, we often play guessing games at meals. Games like 20 questions or Uno, which even young children can play, can help family members relax and build positive experiences together without anyone feeling like the spotlight is on them.
Keeping dinner light and breezy doesn’t preclude substantive conversations. Sometimes, it’s important for each family member to express themselves. Asking each person about their day is a good beginning, but then going a little deeper with simple follow up questions like: How do you think the other person felt? How could you have made that situation better? Have you ever heard of a saint who was in a situation like that? Thought provoking questions can bring about natural moments for us to listen to our children and also gently guide them as we explore together why and how we make choices as Orthodox Christians.
My younger sons just returned from a week at Camp St. Seraphim where while they were eating meals, someone was reading to them from a book about Father Arseny. Reading aloud from a book about a saint or other Orthodox hero inspired my boys and kept the conversation and behavior from getting out of hand in a more positive way than separating them like my parents did with us. My sons asked us to continue reading this at home!
What does your family do to strengthen your togetherness at mealtimes? How can you intentionally expand on your family’s strengths and make it even better?