My parents are European. Which means lots of things, for instance, we yell a lot. When I'd ask my dad “why are you and mommy and grandma and grandpa and Aunt Pat and Uncle Frankie and everyone always screaming at each other?” “We’re not screaming” he’d answer loudly, “this is just how we talk.” Apparently we’re a rowdy bunch. My AMERICAN husband is always shushing me. Making that lower-your-voice-waving-motion with his hand when I talk to him, on the phone, to the kids, I like to think I am just full of joie de vivre but I guess I do kinda come across as noisy.
I also inherited the old country habit of eating the day’s main meal EARLY. On the weekends we always ate dinner (which was really lunch you see) at 2 o’clock and on the weekdays we ate dinner at 4. Which means during the week we almost never ate together as a family, with my dad, cause he was ALWAYS at work.
I remember going to friends’ houses and starving (even with a snack) until their family + daddy dinner time at 6 or 7pm. My stomach just couldn’t get bear the wait.
But I have come to really, really, really! believe in the dinner as a family concept. I remember reading something Rabbi Lawrence Hajioff (our JoK Rabbi) wrote about Shabbos and the endurance of the Jewish people as a whole and the success of the family unit (in contrast to other religions and cultures) as due in part to our weekly, ritual, undistracted, family-focused, Shabbos meals.
My parents are now divorced. For the second time. From each other. Yes, they divorced each other twice. Which of course means they married each other twice. Now I am not saying it’s because we didn’t keep Shabbos and didn’t eat dinner as a family. I am just saying.
Coordinating dinner as a family is so complicated I know, between schedules, and jobs, and extracurricular activities. But to the extent that you can make family dinner a priority, at least once during the work week, the investment in your family is priceless.
At our family dinners we have a ritual where we go around the table and ask everyone individually to talk about the best part of their day. As we sit down and begin serving the food everyone (including the adults) starts to think and get excited for their turn. This exercise helps us all frame our sometimes wonderful, sometimes exhausting, sometimes difficult day into one with a positive takeaway. The happiest memory shines front and center as does the person sharing it with the family. It’s a simple exercise in optimism, in positivity, in the sharing of happy experiences with one another as well as in confidence building and in public speaking. We make it a point to all participate and even ask my 2 ½ year old about the best part of her day. She can’t talk much yet but she always says or does something cute that makes us all laugh. Hubby and I share too. We are careful to go around the table in a different order at each meal so everyone has a chance to be first.
What do you think about family dinner? How important is it? Do you do it? What do you do to get the dinner table conversation going? Or how do you focus it?