The 7 Mommy Musts for Family Dinners

My husband, Sean, works crazy hours, as you probably know if you read my blog, and he often doesn't get home until I'm tucking the twins into bed. We've always kept the weekends as sacred as possible, making sure that the kids get an extra large dose of "daddy time", and Sunday nights have traditionally been set aside as Family Night, but during the weekdays, he has been essentially absent.

Then about a month ago, Sean decided to carve out every Thursday evening as Family Dinner Night. I knew he meant it when he said to his assistant, "Drew, block out every Thursday night from 6pm on for dinner with the famly, and don't schedule any meetings after 5:30 on that night." It was huge! It made me really think about the importance of the 'Family Dinner'. In our house, we have family dinners every night during the week, only it's usually without the dad.

I have rules for the dinner. Everyone has a job, whether it's helping to cook, setting the table, cleaning up, putting the dog away, etc. The TV is shut off, there are no games or toys, no phones, and conversation is encouraged. I go around the table and ask each of the kids to tell me something "super awesome" about their day, trying to stress the positive as opposed to hearing complaints.

Family dinners like ours are still happening around the country. In a recent poll by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Media 60% of families have dinner together at least 5 nights per week, and despite the increase in households with both parents working, most of the families enjoy home cooked meals. The biggest cause for the absence of family dinners was a parent working late. Sadly, however, 10% of all families surveyed said it had been over a week since their last family dinner.

In some way, the study was pleasantly surprising. It was good to know that most families still value and maintain the family dinner and make regular time to be together. However, what was not surprising was how many distractions there are during the family dinner. More than half admit to having the TV on during dinner on most nights. Most will respond to phone calls. 15% say that texting and emailing goes on, with 5% acknowledging it goes on constantly.

The value of the family dinner is more than just eating together. Studies show that when families eat together the meals tend to be healthier. Teens who partake in family dinners are less likely to use marijuana or prescription drugs. Girls whose families have regular meals together are less likely to develop anorexia. If a parent wants to have an influence over their kids, they must be involved in their lives, and that doesn't happen automatically just because you live under the same roof.

Family dinners offer parents and kids a chance to discuss their lives without distractions. If distractions are allowed, the entire value of the dinner goes out the window. So Alyssa and I at MommyWarriors.com put our heads together and created a list of the 7 Mommy Musts for Family Dinners, to ensure that you get the most out of them and to help them foster better relationships with your kids.

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The 7 Mommy Musts for Family Dinners!

  1. Set a consistent time in stone The first thing you have to do is set the family dinner, obviously, and require that everyone attend. It doesn't matter whether you make it, buy it, microwave it, reheat it, as long as the family sits together at the same time each night. This is particularly important as the kids get older and have more freedom with their time. But it is also important when it comes to snacking. In our house, there are no snacks after 4. If the kids aren't hungry, they won't want to sit.
  2. Assign everyone a job Family dinner should be a group effort, with everyone contributing something. In our house, my youngest son sets the table, my daughter helps me cook, my oldest son helps clean up, and all the kids are expected to carry their plates to the kitchen. This way, everyone is important in carrying out of the ritual.
  3. The only thing allowed at the the table is dinner There are no toys, no books, no homework, no phones, no mp3 players, no unfinished drawings, allowed anywhere near the table. Anything that will distract from the family and the food is banned.
  4. TV, telephone and music are off For the family to talk, everyone must hear each other, and you can't do that if there is background noise. Never mind that show or game that you CAN'T miss. Set up a DVR and catch it afterward. Family bonding is way more important than anything on TV.
  5. Steer the conversation As I mentioned above, I have my regular question I ask each night, but you can design your conversation in many ways. You can simply ask everyone to share something about their day, good or bad. The point is to get everyone talking. If you ask specific questions you're likely to get short answers, so instead invite everyone to describe something.
  6. Respect the table Reinforce the significance of the dinner by requiring everyone to stay at the table until everyone has shared something about their day. Remember, bonding is as important for the siblings as it is for the parents. Everyone should ask to be excused, even if they need to run to the bathroom, and when someone is speaking, everyone needs to listen and be respectful to that person.
  7. Parents participate, too Family dinners are not just to help the parents connect with the kids, they also allow the kids to connect with their parents. A relationships is not a one way street. Parents should be sharing things about their day, as well. Kids need to know what their moms and dads deal with each day so that they can better appreciate their parents' perspectives. Obviously you have to be thoughtful of how and exactly what you share. You don't want to burden the kids with stresses that they can't understand or process.

As you integrate these steps into your lives, you'll see another relationship strengthen as well, the one with your spouse. This type of ritual benefits everyone at the table, and that includes the one between Mom and Dad.

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