It seems that the pace of the world in which we live has become so fast that a meal around the dinner table is tough to come by for many families. Whether we are motivated by the proverbially good life or the happiness of our children, we often end up with way too much on our plates. The more we involve our kids in activities, the more we seem to race all over town trying to keep up. Intentions are good, but we can quickly get in over our heads. It doesn’t matter if it’s sports, dance, music lessons, clubs, or friends; the time we spend at home as a family can easily evaporate if we are not intentional about keeping it sacred. As if parenting wasn’t already a schedule filler, the stressors and time constraints associated with being an adult slap us in the face each time the alarm clock goes off in the morning. Husbands and wives juggle work, errands, bills, laundry, and kids. But a date once in a while would be nice, right? And single parents face these same obstacles at an exponentially more difficult rate! Nobody ever said that raising a child was easy. They don’t come with instructions and they certainly do not come with a pause button. However, the dinner table can be that place where life slows down enough to provide the quality time necessary to cultivate healthy family values and relationships.
Growing up, the dinner table in my house was an important part of the family routine. It was the place where we practiced manners, talked about our day, and ate our biggest meal. Most importantly, it was the place where distractions were tossed aside in favor of quality family time. There was no TV during dinner, permission was needed to leave the table, and even the dog was not allowed in the room. It was that time of day where things slowed down for a little bit and the family could focus on each other. My mom and dad taught us some of our most valuable lessons during our dinner table conversations. I learned about emotions, good character, and how to be responsible for my own behaviors. I learned how to be sympathetic when my brother or sister talked about their disappointments or hardships. I also learned how share in the happiness of a celebratory moment when I was not the one being celebrated. That’s tough for a child! The dinner table was filled with laughter, but also with tears. It was a place to voice frustration, but also a place to collectively solve problems. We all knew that we could talk and we would be heard. Above all, the dinner table was a safe meeting place where we could learn and grow together. We supported each other, offered encouragement, and held each other accountable.
Today, my wife and I continue the dinner table experience as one of our intentional ways of leading our family. My 10-year old daughter has many of the same responsibilities that I had growing up. She helps set the table, she practices manners, and she takes her turn in the conversation. As part of our nightly dinner conversations, my wife and I ditched the age-old “How was your day?” question in favor of something we call POWs and WOWs. A POW is the worst thing that happened to you that day or simply something that bothered you. On the other hand, a WOW is the best thing about your day or something that made you extremely happy. Each of us gets our turn to share, and it provides valuable insight into one another’s day. My daughter’s POW often presents an appropriate opening for a valuable life lesson or character building moment. My wife’s POW usually helps me understand how I can best support her feelings and most effectively love and serve her. Just like POWs, our WOWs can be simple or huge. But the most important aspect of the WOWs is the daily reminder they provide us about what makes each other happy. The POWs and WOWs routine is an asset to our family relationship because it provides an avenue into our most personal space. This type of sharing requires some level of vulnerability, but it also empowers each of us to become a supportive listener and a loving encourager. Quite simply, it is the feedback that fuels our daily teamwork and support system. Our dinner table helps us grow individually and collectively. It makes us a better family.
Being a family requires many things and it takes determination to keep all the moving pieces in sync. Life can get busy in the blink of an eye and you can quickly get pulled in a thousand different directions. It is important to guard what you love and be intentional about protecting the time you have to enjoy it. As for my wife and I, we are very intentional about protecting the time spent around the dinner table because of the incredible return on investment for our family. It is certainly not easy to nail those daily dinners, but we work hard to make it happen because we value the opportunities they provide for growth, stability, and a deep-rooted sense of belonging. Like most families, we are susceptible to being consumed by the hustle and bustle, especially during the week. My wife and I both work full-time, we exercise at the gym regularly, and we most definitely make time for dates! On top of that, our 10-year old daughter plays volleyball, takes dance, plays the violin, and is getting into theatre. There are certainly moments when time is fleeting and we are forced into a bold tag team attempt to cook as fast as we can. I’m not sure what goes on in your house, but I feel like we are probably pretty similar because life has a way of consuming all of us. Therefore, as a last line of defense against the elimination of quality family time, we make the dinner table a priority.