Taking Back the Dinner Table


Taking Back the Dinner Table | Duluth Moms Blog

In our home, we’ve always made family dinner time a priority, but each year the commitment seems harder to keep as our kids get involved in more activities and more events fill our weeknights. 

In a household with two working parents, our time together as a family is limited to late evenings and weekends. The dinner table has become our place of reconciling our day, telling stories, and just being together. However, we have had to set some firm rules to keep it a place of enjoyment and connection and, in return, it has helped us establish routine and security for our kids. 

Rule 1:  No electronics at the table.  No exceptions. 
Rule 2:  Everyone must respect each other’s feelings and opinions, listen, and talk in turn.
Rule 3:  Everyone gets a turn to share a story or highlight of their day.

My hope is that my children will know they can come to the table with anything they want to share and, as a family, we will support and encourage each other. Siblings can’t–and shouldn’t–take the place of parental guidance, of course, but they can certainly offer encouragement and advice. I’ve found that, sometimes, they do it in more age-appropriate context than I could offer. A bad day in Kindergarten is often turned into a story of encouragement from a much wiser second grader, who happened to have a really bad day once and can relate.

The shift in making the dinner table the focus of the day was made in small adjustments of placing importance first on the established rules, and then introducing the art of respectful conversation. I wanted us to share more than just the details of our day. I wanted to encourage our children to engage in meaningful discussion and learn what it means to participate in both the listening and speaking parts of a conversation.  

To begin some deeper levels of conversation and connection, we introduced a great tool that has proved to work with family members of all ages: the question jar. Each person gets to draw a slip of paper with a question and we go around the table, each getting a turn to answer the question. Sometimes we make it through everyone, other nights the conversation is so sparked with teaching and discussion, and laughter, that we only make it through one slip of paper before plates are clean. Some sample questions in our jar include:  

What are you most afraid of?
If you could move anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
What is something that made you laugh today?

  Taking Back the Dinner Table | Duluth Moms Blog

There isn’t a night that goes by that our kids let the question jar go unused to start the conversation. The question jar is now part of our table centerpiece–no matter the season–and it has allowed us as parents to more easily peek into the minds and emotions of our children on a daily basis. It has given us all something more meaningful and engaging to discuss with each other.

I’ve made several other changes to our table to put focus on the importance of  gathering as a family as well. I started creating formal tablescapes or centerpieces on the table, switching them as the seasons change or changing them up for a special Birthday dinner or family celebration. Great work on a spelling test calls for a special centerpiece of balloons and noisemakers so we can all celebrate the accomplishment together as a family. The addition of lighted candles makes any dinner seem special and we dim the lights and suddenly everything, including the conversation, is more intimate and quiet. Centerpieces are a great, easy way to make each dinner a unique event, celebrating seasons, holidays, and just dressing up a mundane weekday evening. 

Manners have also been taught and enforced. A lesson on which fork to use when there are two for a special, formal dinner, how to pass and offer dishes around the table, saying excuse me when our body functions properly, but at an awkward time, and how to ask for dismissal from the table if we need to leave before the meal is done. Don’t get me wrong, most nights we are still working on the basics of using silverware to eat our food and not using our sleeves as napkins, but stepping it up to teach more formal manners has helped the little ones come along too. Teaching and enforcing the use of manners places an importance on being respectful and courteous to each other and to guests.   

Most importantly, we hope to keep our dinner table a place of warmth and encouragement. Letting the hard days unfold around a family that will support us with kind words and renewed hope, and sharing the good days with a crowd that will cheer us on and celebrate along side us. The importance we place on things as parents echoes in our children. It’s clear that the dinner table has now become the landing spot and the highlight of the evening for our childern. It has become a highlight of mine as well. (Okay, except for that whole making the dinner part!)