Do any of your childhood memories revolve around food? Do any memories revolve around the dinner table?
I remember always eating meals with my family every evening at the kitchen table. If it was volleyball season, the meals would be later in the evening. If Mom had to work nights, then we ate with Dad. If Dad had a meeting in the evening, then dinner was a little earlier than usual.
Dinner rarely was out at a restaurant and was never “on our own” or skipped.
On Sundays, we would have dinner at Grandma’s house. Grandma would make a hearty Midwestern meal and have a bowl of olives on the table waiting for us to snack on before the meal was ready.
The smell of celery boiling in water still takes me back to these Sunday meals.
Without purposely communicating, we set boundaries for our family meals. Everyone ate at the table for dinner. No one ate in any other location in the house but in the kitchen. We all ate together. We also did not have the TV on. (There was no TV in the kitchen so that made it easier.)
There were no cell phones in the 1980s, either. Our telephone was attached to the wall in another room. The telephone never really rang during dinner because everyone else was eating dinner at that time, too. If it did ring, we had no problem letting the answering machine get it.
I never realized the value of dinner time, together as a family, around the table, until I moved away and found myself creating traditions.
When my kiddos were born, we chose to follow the same routine of eating dinner together every night. Even the newborn would sit in his car seat on one end of the table with us. Throughout the years, dinner became a time of conversation, laughs and connection — a time when memories were made.
One evening, when the kids were 1, 3 and 6, I made bow tie pasta for dinner. The kids loved the new shape. They could not help but eat it with their fingers. Very quickly, they learned that cooked pasta is sticky. It even sticks to the wall and the ceiling. A food fight broke out before we could enjoy the taste of dinner. There was no use stopping the fight. Instead, my husband and I joined in. To this day, this is the favorite memory that everyone in the family shares when asked about our family dinner traditions.
Another evening, when the kids were in junior high and high school, we were talking about our schedules. Our son, Jacob, mentioned that he needed some crafty materials to complete a project for school. When I probed him about this project, I realized that he needed tag board, markers, stickers and maybe even paint.
I did not have many of these tools on hand.
“When is this project due?” I asked.
Jake’s answer is priceless and is used today during family deadlines: “At the latest, tomorrow.”
This dinner conversation created some nervous laughs as the family quickly connected to conquer this project.
Now that the kids are grown and on their own, my husband and I rarely eat at the table anymore. We eat at the kitchen bar, and sometimes the TV is on. We did not even notice that we were violating our family dinner rules until the kids came home to visit and observed that we have gotten away from something so important to us all.
Conversations, laughs, connections and memories were made throughout the years with five people around the table. Can this not happen with only two people? Of course it can. There are so many more dinnertime memories to make. We have chosen to be intentional again.
It does not matter if you like to cook. It does not matter if you make tasty meals. The importance of meals is not food, it is the people.
I would encourage all families to create some boundaries for your meals. Communicate your intentions with your family. Create your opportunities to laugh and connect with those who will pass on your family legacy and stories.
Kathie Rotz is a leadership consultant and John Maxwell Certified Speaker, Trainer and Coach with Unity Consulting in Dubuque.