Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Mealtime Chaos

Question

We’re both frustrated by our lack of quality family mealtimes together.  Our three kids are 11, 14 and 16 and our family meals, when we’re able to have them, are rarely enjoyable.  Any suggestions?

Answer

Chaotic.  Conflictual.  Frantic. Non-existent.  Those are all words I’ve heard parents used to derive the family mealtime.

In fact, I’ve spoken with many parents frustrated by the fact that their homes feel like an airport where the planes land to get serviced and fueled only to take off again, not to be seen or heard from until their next refueling.

Don’t give up!  Research tells us that regular family mealtimes have many benefits, including better emotional and physical health, greater academic achievement, less anxiety and depression, decreased likelihood of substance abuse and a more positive family environment.

It’s essential that both of you go into each meal with a prepared heart.  This isn’t just a meal.  It’s an opportunity for connection where you also just happen to eat.  Make it a time of interaction, information sharing, and encouragement.

Start small.  Set aside at least one or two dinners a week that are “sacred” and build on that.

Make it a digital free time.  Yeah.  Mobile phones are not just silent, but off or in another room.

There are no “good vibrations” during dinner.

Make the dinner table a “no conflict” zone.  If difficult issues arise, they can be discussed after the meal and in the living room.  Make family mealtimes a safe place.

Don’t just do the “obligatory” thanks-for-the-food-prayer at the beginning of the meal.  Also end the meal with one or more praying for concerns and upcoming events that might have been brought up.  It doesn’t need to be a long theologically-detailed prayer.  Simply a short and practical application of I Peter 5:7.

In fact, and this might sound a bit weird to you, if during the meal your son or daughter shares a personal concern or one for a friend, it’s okay to pause, even while people are still chewing, and offer a 30-second prayer for that person or situation, and then keep on eating.

I agree with Henri Nouwen’s observation that “The table is the barometer of family and community life.”  You can move from facilitating a family feeding trough to a time of connection, communication, loving, understanding, encouragement, acknowledging a loving God who is concerned with every area of our lives . . . and eating.

Gary J. Oliver, ThM, PhD
Executive Director at Center for Healthy Relationships | + posts

Dr. Oliver is the Executive Director of The Center for Healthy Relationships, and professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University.  He has authored over 20 books and more than 350 professional and popular articles.  Dr. Oliver has over 40 years’ experience as a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage  & Family Therapist and Spiritual Director.  He leads seminars & workshops both nationally and internationally on a variety of counseling-related issues, healthy relationships as well as Emotional & Relational Intelligence (ERI).

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