08 Dec Meal Time
Every day across the world, moms prepare for the Olympic challenge – surviving the family meal with a smile on their face. We enter the mealtime prep tired, with low blood sugar, surrounded by hungry children. Supper time is one of the most draining times for moms, whether they are returning from work, whipping the meal together, or just trying to corral everyone around the table for supper. The early years of family life are particularly challenging with constant squabbles, food issues, chaos, and mess. Well, ladies, we need to blindfold ourselves better to meal time craziness and focus rather on its true worth. Family meals give children reliable access to their parents and gel the family together. Their benefits far outweigh the daily hassle we encounter. More and more psychologists are encouraging families to eat together more frequently and leisurely to combat the problems of depression, eating disorders, addictions, etc.
Think how empty life would be if your children did not exist to fill those kitchen chairs! Coming together at table presents amazing opportunities. You married for love, and these children are fruits of that love. No matter how crazy meal times can be, focus on nurturing your relationships because that’s where your life’s happiness truly lies. Meal times are not moments for corrections or power struggles. They should rather be moments for loving, listening, caring and enjoying. Each person is unique and valued, not for how they act, but for who they are. Zero in on this. I had to learn to zip my mouth and rather give hand signals from time to time to remind my kids to keep their feet down, hands to themselves and eat with their mouths closed. Children will learn good manners, eating habits and conversation over time mostly through your good example. Work to bring your family emotionally together during meals; don’t push them away by demanding behavioral perfection. Things take time. Remember the home is the place where we are loved and learn to love. Meal time should be no exception. Be realistic for the ages and stages of each family member. When you’re having a rough day and ready to lynch your kids, have a special signal to your spouse that you will need some time out as soon as possible.
The key is to make the moment as pleasurable as you can for everyone. Find coping strategies that work for you–maybe easier menus, calm background music, cooking the meal in advance, even doubling some for the freezer, etc. Control what you can to lessen your blood pressure. May be you want to feed your youngest first so you can be more present to the others when they assemble. As kids get older, you can have them help the younger children at the table, rather than doing every thing yourself. Have your children serve the food and water as well to free you up. Practice relaxing and breathing to de-stress. Search out the positive in people and conversation. Ignore a lot. It’s not worth wrecking the meal over. Try to show genuine interest in each person at the table. Talk with your husband about his day, his interests, what’s happening etc. Children learn a lot about conversation from the two of you. Take an interest in your children. You might want to start with the youngest and work your way up. Don’t get hung up on who eats what, how much and in what way. This takes the joy out of mealtimes for everyone. They will eat better at the next meal and have to learn the consequences of eating poorly. Let nature teach them. Eventually, they will mature. Give it time. Ride out the hormones in your kids and yourself. Don’t sabotage the meal by becoming ornery with people. Do your best to set a cheerful tone and don’t take things too personally. A glass of wine once in a while for you and your husband can help smooth the rough edges.
Realize that food is a direct route to the intimacies of the family. Think of Christmases gone by, Thanksgiving suppers, birthday celebrations, meals with relatives, friends, and grandparents. These moments become treasures over the years. We link food with family–ham at Easter time, hot dogs for Saturday nights, popcorn with videos, ice creams with dad … These meals are as much about talking and relating, as they are about eating. Direct your family conversations around worthwhile topics. Over the years, these conversations help us share our history, culture, values, friendships, interests and achievements – basically who we are. They glue us together in a unique way. Meals are informal, with lots of spontaneous conversation, comments, antics, and vitality. From time to time, it’s good to be proactive in dinner conversation so as to move away from too much talk about computer games, or bathroom humor, squabbling or whatever deflates the tone. May be decide in advance what to discuss or ask leading questions.
Here are some ideas:
- Share the good, bad and ugly; the high and low; or the good and bad of your day. Go from youngest to oldest.
- Ask what was the funniest thing you saw happen today?
- What can we do next weekend as a family that would be fun?
- What are you learning in math, french, religion etc…
- Pick a country and ask if each person can tell one thing they know about it.
- If you could be an animal, which one would you choose and why?
- What is your favorite video, book, song, etc. and why?
- Who do you admire and why?
- Tell me three great things about one of your friends.
- Tell me something you know about any of your grandparents?
- How did mom and dad meet and recount one story about their courtship?
- What’s happening in the news right now?
- What would be an ideal evening/Saturday/Sunday for you?
- What’s your favorite breakfast/lunch/supper/snack/drink/dessert etc.?
- Tell me one thing you’d like to do for the upcoming holidays.
- If you had me all to yourself, what would we do together?
Supper time is an excellent occasion for everyone to review their day. Try to eat together as often as possible. Try not to eat in the car, on the run, or separately. Coming together around one table is very important. Share, talk, laugh, joke, enjoy. Your children are home for only a short time in your life. Build the memories. Plug into the power of family meals. Whether you talk about your work, the news, family lore, plans for vacations etc., you are helping your kids develop criteria, values, identity, sense of belonging and family intimacy. Too often the fast pace of today’s life erodes this special family ritual. Try to take care of it more. Keep extra-curriculars to a minimum. Safeguard meal-times. They are sacred family occasions. Take the phone off the hook while you are eating. Get rid of distractions, ie. newspapers, I Pods, toys, and TV screens. Make the event a moment of interaction, presence, and relationship. Set a nice table. Use proper serving dishes. Linger over the meal as the kids get older and have more to say. Learn to relax, slow down and savor the moment. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t allow the rush of life to encroach upon this valuable family time. You have the power to really make a difference in your family’s well-being by this simple daily ritual. Don’t be quick to let it slip through your fingers. Grab it while you can. You will be so much stronger for it.