One of my favourite authors in her book, Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry, talks about the importance of making some mealtimes a ceremonious occasion that focuses on the importance of family and togetherness.
When you spend some extra time making your family dinner an important moment of the day, it shows that you value being together and having time to talk and share and bond as a family.
There is a lot of research to show that eating your meals slowly and allowing time for digestion and relaxation, helps greatly with keeping away digestive issues and also creates a good family atmosphere.
It’s not an easy thing to do in today’s fast-paced culture though, and often it’s much more convenient to just have pizza on the couch while watching TV, or to eat out between activities or just dish up at the stove and sit down at the table without much ceremony involved.
What is Ceremony?
What do I mean by ceremony? Small efforts, rituals or traditions that make your family unique or that promote values that you cherish and want to instil in your children. I have fond memories of our family’s evening meal times growing up, where we would gather together to share about our day or just be silly and tell stories. My mom was good at making little extra efforts like nice placemats or table cloths, even candles once we were older, and fancy glasses.
Setting the table was like setting the atmosphere, and putting the small efforts into making it nice showed that we valued our family and togetherness. In the same way that you would feel appreciated and valued if your spouse made a fancy dinner (or took you out to one), it’s those extra frills and ceremony of it all that makes it feel fancy and makes you feel like your worth the time.
Your children also need to feel this way, even if it’s only occasionally that you are able to have a family dinner. Some families like to have one night a week devoted to a nice family meal, especially during the busy days of young children or working long hours. Others are able to have meals together more often, and that’s great.
The Family Table
For myself, I find it hard to have the energy to do anything more than just throw supper together and dish everyone up from the stove. Most days, I figure it’s pretty good that we’re even sitting at the table together to eat, and since having the girls, it’s been a challenge to even do that much.
Since I spent the majority of my pregnancy on the couch, it was easy for us to just eat while we watched TV, and the habit carried on into the early months with the girls. We did however get better at eating at the table once the girls were eating solids and would be at the table in their highchairs anyway.
It was in this last year that I read about the value of ceremony for small kids and how you can incorporate a family meal time into your busy life with the help of your kids. Decide what you want for your family, and make it happen, even if it’s once a week or once a month. Maybe it’s something as simple as having a theme night where you make a special dish for dinner with the help of the kids.
When I watch movies like “Pride and Prejudice”, I laugh a bit at all their proper ways of doing things, and how every little thing was dictated by cultural rules and expectations. It all seems so rigid and formal, and I sure am glad that I can eat mac and cheese in my sweat pants most days.
However, part of me does long to pass on to my children some sense of propriety and manners with an appreciation for formality..because we are worth it. We are worth some self-respect and dignity. Even if it’s just once a week..or even once a month.
Especially in the coming Christmas season, family traditions and rituals can be that much more fun and exciting. When you have small children, it’s definitely easier to keep things simple, but there are ways of including them so that they can feel part of the festivities. Family is so important, it’s worth celebrating as much as we can!
What are some family meal-time traditions that you had growing up? Are there some special things you would like to do with your children to make dinner more of a formal affair?