This week an event happened that caused me to think. On Thursday night, I had open house and stayed at school for the evening. My husband, Eric, took the boys on a photo shoot. When I returned home after 7:30, I was the first one to arrive. I found a note from a disappointed nineteen-year-old daughter. She had expected to eat supper with us all around the table. Her schedule had been busy with work in the evenings and time with friends, that we hadn’t had an opportunity to check in with her. What struck me most about that event was the assumption my daughter had–we would be together for dinner. Her assumption was accurate, because since we were married, Eric and I have made a point of having sit down dinners around the table.
The kids have grown up learning to sit and listen to adult conversations, and as they grew, they became part of that conversation. I used to read to them after dinner. We have met various characters who have become part of our family culture. I started out with biographies, and then moved on to stories the kids wanted to share with the family. The last book we read was D J MacHale’s Pendragon series. We only made it to book 9, and it took several years due to various interruptions. The reading gave way to conversations with the kids about their day or joking around. Some of my favorite memories right now are centered around our dinner table and laughing with my children.
Our dinner table was a place to teach our kids’ friends how to interact with a family. Many of their friends had never sat down at a table except maybe at Christmas or Thanksgiving. They learned how to ask for food to be passed and how to ask to be excused from the table.
It was around the dinner table that our kids learned how to interact with adults–not just parents. We have entertained missionaries from around the world: Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, Ethiopia, and more. Besides the missionaries who visited from church, we have had numerous visitors. These aren’t just our friends that we know and love. Our visitors are travelers along Highway 101. We have enjoyed getting to know people from Seattle, Colorado, Eugene, New Hampshire, Boston, New York, England, France, Bolivia, Spain, Germany, Palestine and countless more. Many are college age students who are hiking or biking their way across a part of the United States. We have sat and chatted about politics, their impressions of the US, and anything that came to mind. After dinner we have jammed adding a violin and drums to our guest’s saxophone. We enjoyed target practice once. Numerous times, we entertained our visitors with fire dancing, but only once did our guest join the show.
Our kids have also enjoyed game nights around the table. When they were little, we had game day on Sunday afternoons. We played Star Wars role playing. As they grew older, we moved on to Scrabble, Uno, and Munchkin. The group of friends have changed, but the table has stayed the same. We sit down talk with one another across the table, having fun and enjoying each others’ company.
Was it easy to keep up this tradition of the dining room table? No. We struggled. There were some weeks where we didn’t sit down often at the table, but we made it a priority. In so doing, we have created memories and taught our children the value of face to face communication. One hard and fast rule has always been, “No electronic devices at the table.” The only exception was if we were reading a book online such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,or if we have some quiet classical music playing while we eat. The kids tried to push this rule only a couple of times. They never got far.
As a parent, I believe this one tradition has been very valuable. We got to know our kids. We were able to feel the pulse of their world. When friends would come over, we got to know them as well. Our table with young children resembled Duskya and Cerulean’s in Dragon’s Heir:
The meal contained light banter and the general commotion of any meal with two little children.
Once we had teenagers, it reflected Duskya and Cerulean’s table in Dragon’s Cure:
The evening meal followed with much talking and friendly banter. The clean up continued in the same vein.
Both of these scenes although summed up with just a sentence or two reflect the many memories around our dining room table with our children. So, if you have the opportunity to create a family tradition, I would suggest reinstating the family dining room table. Use it for more than just a fancy tablecloth (although my kids learned how to deal with a fancy meal as well at our table). Let your table become a place of laughter, stories, and memories.