Some time back I did an interview on the importance of dinnertime. It reminded me of the importance of eating dinner as a family in the work/life balance equation so I thought I would post it here as well:
In your view, why aren't families sitting down to the dinner table like they did in the 1950s?
Simple; families have allowed themselves to get so busy that they have come to accept that sitting down together for dinner isn't a necessity. It all starts with the parents; if they don't sit down together or enforce that the family will be eating together, the family won't do it. Make sitting down together the rule and not doing so the exception.
How does this affect both parents and children?
Dinnertime is a prime opportunity to have a captive audience with your kids and to allow for discussions to develop organically. Not capitalizing on this opportunity means that parents and children miss the chance to connect on both simple topics (how was your day?) and more complex topics (addictions and sex).
What are your top five tips for creating the perfect family dinner together?
1. Start early when the kids are young - set the expectation that the family sits down for dinner together such that the kids see it as the normal thing to do.
2. Establish a contract - When my kids were little, my wife and kids would eat dinner at 5PM and I would eat later when I got home from work. We had to agree upon a dinner time (6PM) where we would all agree to be at the table for dinner. I had to schedule it in my calendar and treat it just like a meeting; because if I didn't make the meeting I would keep my family waiting. Our 6PM dinnertime contract has been in force for years and has worked beautifully.
3. Turn off the electronics - No TV, iPods, or any other distractions at the table. If Publisher's Clearinghouse calls with a $1 million prize then let them wait.
4. Have some fun - laughing at the dinner table is massive for building relationships as a family. Encourage a bit of goofiness and fun. If kids see dinnertime as a fun time they are more likely to want to do it
5. Don't be in a rush to leave the table - Before our daughter went off to college my wife and I frequently would sit around the table with her after the meal talking about whatever was on her mind. From our perspective as parents there was nothing more important than giving her our attention and talking about whatever it was she wanted to talk about.
What is the most important thing parents should know about eating with their children?
Dinnertime is more than filling your gullet. It is where kids get to observe their parents in a captive environment and establish relationships which transcend well beyond the dinner table. Think about dinnertime as the place where relationships get built and where your words and actions imprint upon your kids.
Is there anything else you think I should know?
This all starts with the parents. If the parents agree that dinnertime is a priority then the kids will see it as a priority. If the parents view the dinner table as a place to build relationships, the kids will participate. If parents make the dinner table fun, the kids will want to be there. Parents need to set the standard and be the example.