As a first time parent, I’m often astounded by how fast the hours of the day go. No matter how hard I try, between work, trips to day care, chores, food shopping, preparing meals and most importantly spending time with the kids (wait, don’t forget sleep and shower!), there just never seems to be enough time during the day to get everything done in the quality way I want to. I know, I know… I’ve got to let some of it go, and I certainly have (you should see my closets), but I continue to be troubled by one particular parenting challenge. How do I make sure that we connect as a family every day?
I’ve become fascinated by “The Family Dinner.” Not just because it was a tradition that I grew up with (some of the time), but because of the benefits that the family dinner can bring to children. There are countless studies that show that having a family dinner can deliver significant emotional and psychological benefits. In fact, there are studies that show increased resiliency and self-esteem connected to the simple (and sometimes not so simple) act of eating dinner together as a family.
As a Summer Camp Director… resiliency and self esteem are kind of “my thing.” I work year round with an incredible team, developing programs to help build 21st century skills like these through the Summer Camp experience. However, I am always looking for ways to help our Camp families extend this learning outside of Camp. So, naturally when I read this, I was intrigued by the power of a family dinner. What a great way for families to connect to each other and continue the learning done at Camp in their own home… every day of the year (or even just a few days a week).
I believe, however, that the success of the family dinner isn’t just getting everyone there or even what to eat. I believe that in order to maximize the benefits of the time spent as a family around the dinner table there is a critical factor that most families may not address…. What on earth do we actually talk about? How do we take the family time beyond “how was your day?” to meaningful conversation that will help shape more confident and contributing members of the family and greater community? A lofty goal for an hour a day I know… but it is something I believe can be done and something my husband, Dane and I have set as a priority in our parenting of our twins.
Recently I came across an incredible resource and encourage everyone to check out: The Family Dinner Project. The site contains countless pages full of specific and developmentally appropriate conversation topics, along with fun dinner games, recipes and a fantastic FAQ section written by founding member and local psychologist Anne Fishel, PhD. It is quickly becoming one of my favorite parenting websites to date, and also has a tremendous amount of practical information that can be carried over to my life as a parent (as well as my life as a Camp Director). It has given me the answer’s I’m seeking and hope that you too will find it helpful. Also, FYI, Dr. Fishel has recently published a book called Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids that is to be released in January. You can pre-order it on Amazon. I anticipate it will be a great resource for all parents searching to bring families together each day…. and a fun fact? The book’s forward was written by our consulting psychologist and friend, Michael Thompson, Phd.
What routines/traditions does your family practice around mealtime? Do you have other resources you’ve found helpful in planning your family dinners?