Family time is less common now in the era of gadgets and digital distractions. The age-old ritual of family dinners is possibly the best way to get every member of the family together. As the saying goes “A Family that eats together, stays together”, but the merits of ‘Family Dinner’ are manifold. It provides a sense of belonging and caring among all members, promotes healthy eating habits, relieves stress, offers a ‘good night’s sleep’, and more than anything it brings happiness and encourages family bonding. Here is an interesting blog by Ms. Shilpa Arun, parent of Anika Arun Bharadhwaj, studying in Grade-2 in Ekya School JP Nagar, on “Dinner Table Conversation,” discussing the purpose, challenges and positive outcomes of reviving the ‘Dinner Table Ritual.’
Dinner Table Conversation
Parenting is touted as an arduous adventure for most adults at present. All adults as parents always do their best to nurture their young ones.
From pre-birthing sessions, birthing lessons, to postpartum experiences, infancy, toddlers, pre-schoolers, primary schoolers… the information flows on, till we are tired of seeking. I begin to wonder how our parents and elders managed to parent without this information flux. Or were we better children? This debate never ends. What caught my attention was Dinner table conversations. This seemingly innocent routine, which most of us followed in our homes, with our parents, is now a major bonding activity for the new age parents. It strongly reminded me, that eating together, these days is indeed a challenge. We forgot about this important time, without fully understanding its consequences, perhaps.
Our evenings struggled by the hour, with phone conferences, virtual meetings, and endless office reports. We resorted to eating on time rather than choosing to wait for everyone to be home in the evening, or interrupting work, to make time for a dinner with family – has this really become a thing of the past!? It took me, close to 8 months and a lot of organizing, to finally introduce this dinner ritual in our home. Repeated attempts to create Meal-time-Rituals, Eating-Together memories in our home, were met with the blaring Television/Music, Meeting Reminders and the ever charged, ever-connected MOBILE phones. Nevertheless, we implemented eating one meal together “Dinner-time!” I would love to share our experience.
- This Dinner time organizes my family, settles us, regularly bringing all members together, contributing to the physical, mental and social well-being. (Yes, after all the complaining from kids about switching off the TV and from adults about keeping phones away, finally ends, this really happens, we are at peace when the food is served!)
- We now eat together from a single menu, elders and kids alike. (Well, there are days when some pickle will substitute a sabzi ‘too gooey’ for the kids or we adults down a rather bland sabzi!) 8 out of 10 days, the single menu works.
- New dishes are welcomed. Simple traditional dishes make us share a few more stories. (Worth all the Effort)
- All the rainbow veggies are included for dinner. We are eating more of them (Good for us parents who are growing on our sides.)
- It is often said, we should not talk while eating, but I promise you, dinners are eaten faster during this little ritual. (we end up spending more time talking after dinner, while my ‘mother-hawk’s eyes zeroed-in often at the clock, to start the bedtime routine!)
- The kids help in setting up and cleaning the table! Good for them! (It takes half an hour more when kids do this, my legs and back rest and my throat hurts!)
- As parents, with all our experience and wisdom (Rather limited & ancient, I have come to understand!!) we find that small window of chance to include useful life-skills into (ridiculously silly) stories and talk about them (without laughing ourselves) although many stories are met with a pair of suspicious eyes asking us “so, is this a story???” So what? I guess the ‘important bits’ of the stories are put out there! Honestly, it is the children who teach us better.
- We learn to work together, delegate a few chores, take responsibility, to negotiate, while prepping & wrapping dinner, together. (I love delegating, though!!)
- We plan for the weekend, distribute chores, make lists, set reminders for more to do, all while cleaning up the table. (of course, this will mean more driving and waking up early during weekends.)
- Somehow, we learned to laugh more, be more goofy and loosen up. I am glad we are learning this well!! (We do laugh a lot!!)
- We learn to share what did not work for us at school and at the office, and how we can do something different to work it! (Including how some dishes do not work well for them too!!)
- About Money. It is a life skill which in my opinion must be taught to children like they understand the concepts of brushing teeth & combing hair! We all know by now, is not ‘the money-making’ that is important, rather ‘managing the money’ is the life skill kids need to master.
- We learn to be patient and wait as everyone will finish those last few spoons! (Very important for parents!)
- We learn to help each other at the table by suggesting to try what combinations are yummy. (yes sometimes, we adults taste Obbatu with tomato sauce & other times the kids taste vegetable salad with lemon Tahini dressing!! In the end, we finish what we have on our plates, despite the yumminess!)
- I can vouch for this since we started the dinner ritual, we have learned to prioritize good food & family time with kids over other interesting (now ex) activities. (checking office mail, browsing news, pic, quotes on social media, silently clicking on emojis to express our opinions! Or even watching ‘The Mummy’ for the 10th time)
- We have nearly stopped eating processed food, during that one important mealtime! (Ice-creams and chocolates are STRICTLY NOT included in the bad food list, at our home!)
While attempting to articulate the learning (even for us, parents) I understand better, how the repetition, consistency, conscious conversations, togetherness, being present and minus the gadgets, work with children. There are days when on weekends, I admit, I want to order some burgers and finish our dinner on the couch in front of the TV, but the children – I hear them assigning chores to set up the table among them, that is motivation enough, for us parents to straighten ourselves and cook-up even a simple rice and rasam to eat together, while the ice cream tub will complement it. The real icing on this piece? is that children are independently managing the table. That is a great starting point, right? I am also seeing the bright speck of light, at the end of the long tunnel – ‘Eat what is cooked, well.’ Almost.
I guess I have learned more than I taught or thought. With dinner time, there are so many takeaways, despite the exhaustion!!
Despite that lingering incomplete office report at the back of my mind, having managed to create a small window of time for us all, to connect with each other, sans distractions (read TV and phones for us elders), we get a glimpse into this amazing world, a multitude thought universe, all packed into the little children, who are the greatest teachers in our lives and help us, parents, attain the ever eluding spiritual and mental maturity! I am reaching for the stars, eh? Maybe.
Although we start at, being happy to retain parts my sanity, while disciplining the ‘younger versions of us parents’ out of the kids, I cannot wait to continue this ritual of endless chitter-chatter, too many questions, loud arguments, strict disciplining, secret negotiations, crying, laughing our hearts out, cheering & teasing, sharing, planning a get-away, discussing weird stories, books, politics, education, food, friendships, myriad of experiences, and a thousand other random silly things. This fits great into our hearts.
I pray that this ritual will go on to become a tradition of sharing, listening, caring, modeling positive relationship building and successfully managing to bring a smile on the grumpy faces who may have a had a bad day. It is important and we are loving it!
Try it yourselves! There is really more that could happen while eating together.
A brief profile of Ms. Shilpa Arun:
Ms. Shilpa Arun is a Chartered Accountant, with about 15 years of work experience in corporate finance, auditing & compliance. She loves practicing yoga, listening to music, reading and spending time with my family. She strongly aspires to learn something new every few years.