The ritual of sitting down to dinner together is not new to our family. Because we live 20 miles outside of the closest city we’ve always cooked at home. Picking up food or ordering in has never been an option, including pizza delivery. Since the time our family entered the launching phase of life, we haven’t consistently had supper together night after night. COVID-19 changed that, bringing everyone home and needing food on a regular basis. They are hungry every night!
Dinner during the shutdown has helped us to return to the touchstone of family dinner and conversations, where we share the day together before going on to other things. The recent events of George Floyd’s death, protests, and riots have given us much to take in and discuss. Eating together has provided a natural place to talk about what’s going on, share ideas, and even challenge other’s thoughts and attitudes. We are not shy about sharing our opinions!
Lively family dinner conversations are one of my favorite things. I was brought up by parents who believed in discussion at the dinner table, where opinions and attitudes could be aired, examined, and challenged. “Round Table Questions” were thought-provoking topics asked and answered by each at the table. It was a place of being respected and deeply listened to. These conversations created space within me for critical thinking and personal examination.
In my family “Did you see…?” is usually the way our conversations start. It seems everyone has their own source of news, and sharing these clips and articles leads to discussion and a bit of back and forth. We frequently stand in the kitchen and toss verbal barbs at each other. Quite often, it takes courage to state a different opinion.
What if the ability to have a respectful exchange starts in the home? What if family dinners could be a training ground for expressing ideas, learning to listen to other points of view, and to ask questions? It seems to me that vibrant and challenging family dinner conversations could help develop the fortitude to carry these skills into the wider world.
Please don’t misunderstand- our family is not perfect in this or always respectful of one another’s opinions, and there is learning that needs to happen among my family members, too. Lessons like how to disagree and maintain a relationship. “Agreeing to disagree” is a pretty common occurrence around here, but it’s with an underpining of love and respect between us, thankfully.
I’m not naive to believe that that’s the case in every home, or even that members all families feel safe to express their views. By championing home-cooking and teaching people to cook for a living, my hope is that there will be more family dinners and discussions happening at the table.
Maybe you’d like to get started but don’t know how. I’d like to offer some basic ground rules to help foster deeper family converstations at the table.
- Go device free- It helps to have everyone engaged at the table if no one is concerned with checking their device. People are more likely to be present and in the moment if they don’t have a distraction.
- Share expectations for behavior- Some ideas include one person speaking at a time, no put-downs or names, and giving the speaker your attention.
- If these kinds of conversations don’t happen naturally, plan a thoughtful question beforehand and be the first to share your thoughts. Go around the table to give each person a turn to speak. You can decide whether or not to allow a person to “pass” on answering.
- Be willing to speak for yourself and your own experience. Vunerablility somehow invites others to share, too. A recent discussion with my sons involved my reaction to stories in the book I’m reading, I’m Still Here- Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown. Her memoir has made me aware of times that I have been insensitive with friends of color, and I confessed to the boys some of the ways I fear I might have offended.
- Seek to understand- Before responding with a counter argument, respond to the speaker’s ideas by reflecting their own thoughts back to them, and making sure you understood what they were trying to express, i.e., “Did I get that right?”, “Is that what you meant?” then allow time for correction or affirmation.
Does your family discuss the affairs of the day together? How and when does that happen? Are you able to discuss and disagree respectfully?