The kitchen was the hub of our home in my youth. It was not only the room we had to pass through to get from one part of the house to the other, but around that table we got to know each other and experience our first taste of community. We hashed out our differences there, shared our day’s adventures, and told some really silly jokes.
The speed of life has increased dramatically since then. And with sports, music lessons, and a host of other activities for children, as well as parent’s crazy schedules, it can be hard for the whole family to find themselves anywhere near the kitchen at the same time.
If this scenario sounds like your life, let me encourage you to slow down a bit and find an opportunity each week to have at least one relaxed meal. A lot of family building can happen at the kitchen table.
You don’t need to make a big, fancy meal, nor does it have to be from scratch, but do offer an inviting, slower paced mealtime. Here are some ways you can parent just by hanging out together over dinner.
Most of life takes place in community (think of school, sports teams, clubs, playgrounds, and church.) The kitchen table is a great place to prepare your children to live well in community, both at home and in public. Your kids can learn the give and take of being with other people as they share a meal around your table. Affirm your love for your children; help them know that you are glad they are part of your family. Laugh at their jokes and stories, unless the better response would be gentle redirection.
It is good for your kids to leave the table satisfied with the meal they have just eaten, but even better for them to feel satisfied with the sense of community they have experienced, even if they can’t put that feeling into words.
Everybody gets to participate, but not all at once! Draw out a child who may be unusually quiet; help the domineering one learn to share the stage with others. As you engage your kids in dialog they will learn the conversation skills of listening well, asking questions, giving thoughtful answers, and offering interesting tidbits of their own.
The conversational give-and-take around the table provides plenty of opportunities for you to model compassion and caring for others. Kids are pretty good at picking up on parental modeling.
Your children can practice this invaluable life skill as they work together in the kitchen—helping set the table, doing dishes, and assisting with food prep, all on an age appropriate level, of course.
It’s easy to take other people for granted and forget to tell them that we appreciate them. Help your kids learn how to acknowledge the unique qualities of their family members by modeling it for them. This is more than a high five or a “Good job!” Be specific and honest when you point out things you want to recognize. Remark on the qualities you see in people, not just their actions. It may take a while for your children to begin to comment on what they value in others but stick with it. People who offer heartfelt appreciation for others brighten the world.
Did you ever go to someone’s home for coffee or a meal and leave feeling refreshed and maybe even pampered? On reflection you realized it wasn’t the food your host had shared, or the elegance of the home, or how well the dishes matched, but that you had felt welcomed and refreshed from your time together. You have been the recipient of someone’s hospitality. If you are able to offer this kindness to others from time to time, your kids will learn to live hospitably towards others.
Some days you’ll wonder if your kids caught anything positive as you ate together around the kitchen table. They may have been stinkers and you may have been one too. Don’t give up hope. You don’t have to get it all right every time. One day you’ll be sitting at the table listening to your kids telling stories and laughing together, and you’ll wonder, “Whose charming children are these?”
They are yours, Mama, they are yours.