“It’s the most important habit our family did together.”
That’s what I said last week to a mom in the midst of raising teenagers.
Our kids are out of the house now. But I remember those hectic days of scrambling around the schedules of four teenagers.
Life was hectic.
But there was one habit that Gary and I held on to with a tight grip. The soccer coach tried to interfere. The football coach could care less. And church even did it’s best to distract us. Then there were all those fun loving friends who just didn’t get it.
But we held on. And I’m still convinced it was the best habit we had in our family–eating together.
We began the day with breakfast around the table (each school year we negotiated the new bathroom schedule and departure times so we could eat breakfast somewhere in the middle of it all). Lunch was dispersed. Then at the end of the day we gathered around the table again for supper.
If I was starting the parenting journey all over, this is one habit I’d definitely hang onto. I’d do it again because it kept us connected.
Gary and I grew up with this family custom. We knew we wanted our kids to have the same tradition.
We began the habit when it was just two of us at the table. And we held onto it with each added kid. Some mealtimes were all about the dropped sippy cup and spaghetti in the face. We eventually graduated to stories about recess and who won the backyard game of kickball. Those stories converged with other stories—the mean girl, a goal scored, the hurtful lie, a good grade, a bad book review.
Some mealtimes were fun. Others were boring. And there were tense ones too, even outright volatile—when I doubted if it was a good idea to make everyone eat together after all.
We’ve had meaningful conversations. And conversations that seemed totally meaningless.
Unfortunately, it’s those seemingly meaningless suppertimes that convince families that eating together is not that important. Is it worth scrambling between commitments, rushing to get food on the table, then herding the rest of the family to actually sit at the same time?
If you’re wondering if eating together as a family is worth it, I’d like to give you four reasons why I think it’s one of the most important habits in our family.
1. Mealtime serves as a speed bump in the day so the family pauses together. It’s a rhythm the family can count on. It pauses the hectic. It’s a space marker in the day that the family grows to count on.
2. It quiets the other noises so we can listen to each other—atleast it does in our house because of our mealtime rules (check them out here – 3 Mealtime Rules in the Greenhouse). We pay attention to who is at the table, not all the other noises clamoring for our attention.
3. It gives value to each person sitting at the table. We all have other activities, people and projects clamoring for our attention. But when we choose to say no to others and yes to eating with the family, we give value to each other. Meals together give value and a sense of belonging.
4. Mealtimes together have a positive impact on everyone. And research proves it…
- It decreases stress.
- It increases happiness.
- Kids test scores are higher in families who eat together regularly.
- Teenagers make better choices.
- It gives a sense of security and belonging.
Guarding the sacred hour for mealtime is hard work. Sometimes we moved it earlier, other times later. And of course there were times when it just didn’t work. But those were the exceptions.
It means saying no to others—even to good things–so we can say yes to family. And it means getting our kids to say no to others—not always easy when family isn’t their first choice for company.
But it’s worth it. Whether it’s a spaghetti in the face meal. “Do I have to sit by him?” kind of day. Or, “You won’t believe what happened at lunch.”
It can be a gourmet meal. Leftovers. Or a carry-out special.
What matters about eating together is the together part. It’s one of the best habits parents can do with their kids. And it’s a good habit to strengthen marriages too (10 Habits for a Healthy Marriage).
So what’s for supper tonight? Whatever it is, I hope you eat it together with the family. And make together a habit.
It’s leftovers for us tonight.
We’re back to just the two of us. But supper together is still a family habit we believe in.