When Sharon and I were starting out as a family, we brainstormed on different practices that we hoped would characterize our family. Why? God gives us the privilege of creating a little family culture. For example, we have the privilege of determining the food we eat, the music in the house, the decorations on the wall, and the values we hold. It is a privilege. It is also a reflection of our imaging God. We are (rightly) ruling over this little part of God’s world.
One of those values we had was we both wanted to emphasize family dinners. We wanted to stop from our day and sit down as a family. In a word we wanted to make dinner time an event. We believed it would be a special time of family bonding. We especially focused on this when the children were young.
In contrast, one study finds that today only about 30% of families have dinner together. In addition, families are eating with the TV on or allowing their children to graze, that is come to the table at different times and/or leave at a different time. Unfortunately this can be true even in Christian families.
If you have not been making this a habit, then you are not alone. But I want to encourage you to make your dinner time an event with a definite beginning, a definite end, and a definite plan.
Here are five reasons we made it an event.
1. It gave our children a chance to serve. Dinner time is a lot of work!. Food has to be prepared. The table has to be set. Drinks have to be poured. The food has to be moved to the table. Afterwards, the table has to be cleared and the dishes washed and put away. That is a lot of work! And yet, in all that, there are chances to teach our children to serve around the house. Our children need to learn to serve. They are welcome members of our house but we do best, not by constantly serving them, but by teaching them to have a servant heart. Small dinner time chores like setting the table and bringing food over or cleaning up are perfect chances to contribute that way.
2. It created self-control. Part of parenting is training our children in self-control. There is the self-control of sitting and waiting to be served. There is the self-control of eating something that may not be their favorite. There is the self-control of asking to be excused. There is self-control of waiting for the honored guest to be served. For example, sometimes we would motivate our children for family devotions by having dessert. (Plus Dad likes sweets.) However, this created another transfer of food from the kitchen to the table. In that interim, with dessert sitting in front of them, they had to wait for Mom to come back and sit down. It was only after she took….drum roll please….”the official bite” that the rest of us could eat dessert. We were teaching manners, self-control, and having fun at the same time.
3. It created family identity, family bonding, and family warmth. Eating together is one of the three activities that binds hearts together. At dinner time, we were able to hear the stories of the day. In some cases, we gave out the red plate as an encouragement. It provided a natural setting to have some sort of family devotions.
4. It gave us a chance to teach manners. Love is not rude (1 Cor 13:4). “Please,” “Thank you,” not burping out loud, and chewing with your mouth closed are all small acts of love for those around us. Asking to be excused from the table is an act of consideration. Children don’t pick these actions up naturally. They must be trained in them. That’s why God gave them parents!
5. It prepared us to eat with others. Parents should always gain the victory in private before going public. Thus dinner is also a chance to prepare our children to have people over for hospitality. Now the guests could be the focus of attention rather than the children. This was true when we would go over to other people’s houses. And although we did not go out to a restaurant much as a family of six on a pastor’s salary, it did mean when we went to the grandparents house, or when the grandparents took them out, they were ready.
Dinner time with children is a lot of work! Yet it yields sweet fruit. Bring order out of disorder and beauty out of chaos by making it a goal to sit down to dinner as a family.