How can we make dinner a time for connection when we're all tired and cranky? I love when we can come together around the table and reconnect, and I have great memories of family dinners as a child. However, when my kids were small my husband was rarely home from work by dinnertime, and often I was one tired mom trying to get three hungry kids fed.
The temptation was strong to feed everyone oatmeal, sneak a piece of chocolate for myself, and hideout in my bedroom after encouraging the kids to watch repeated junky TV shows. And I feel fine about that sometimes. The thing is, I didn't want all of my kids' dinner memories to be of a stressed-out mom plopping them in front of TV – so I came up with ways to simplify and de-stress dinner time.
I felt like dinner was “supposed to be” this nice connecting point in your day. The truth of the matter is, parents of young kids are usually run ragged by dinnertime. I am thankful to have discovered these little rituals to help bring connection even on days when I am just WORN out.
Easy Dinner Rituals for Connection
Aside from a subscription to a meal planning service, which simplified the “What will we eat?” conundrum for the most part, I found some low-stress dinner rituals that help make dinner with kids feel calm and connected. If you try these remember, you don't have to do every one of these things every night. These are just ideas for small ways to make dinner special that you can sprinkle in as they suit you.
Ask your child to make a centerpiece for the table.
You can encourage a seasonal theme, ask them to pick flowers or select a piece of their own artwork to share with the family.
Light a candle.
The simple act of pausing to light a candle helps set this time aside in your day and gives people a chance to focus on being at the table.
Find a meaningful way to begin your meal.
Religious or not, you can help bring gratitude and thoughtfulness to your meal time. You might try:
- Saying grace, or a prayer
- Singing a song
- Rising your glasses to say cheers
Ask your family about their favorite part of the day.
This question has become a touchstone in our family. We ask it at dinnertime- whether that dinner is happening at the dining room table or in a half-hazard gathering in the living room, it is a way to connect and bring people present. If the adults in the room are just a *wee* bit exhausted and grouchy, it's a way to pull us out of our funk. (How can you stay grouchy when your four-year-old says his favorite part of the day was when you played a game with him?)
You may learn things that surprise you, and this is a great time for children to learn about listening to others. This question helps everyone relive a fun day or pick the good things out of a bad day. We also like our set of conversation starters to get the conversation going.
At dinner time tonight ask your kids what their favorite part of the day was. Go around to everyone at the table and find out their answer. Even if they had a crummy day, was there some little bright spot? I hope this brings you a *new* favorite part of your day.
Celebrate your family's unique dinnertime rituals.
Does everyone have a specific chair? Do you make a family dinner that everyone loves? Do you have a silly way you encourage your toddler to eat?
All of these little details, when repeated, become the rituals that are special to your unique family and make dinners a meaningful time of connection that gives your children a sense of belonging and safety.
Make it simple.
Your dinnertime rituals do not have to be complex. They do not have to look like other people's, and they do not have to be the ones you had growing up.
You can take a few small details and add them to your meal times on most days (it doesn't have to be a perfect dinner each night!) Soon your children will be the ones prompting you, “Hey! Let's light the dinner candle!” or “Mama, are you forgetting to ask us something?”