We recently visited our daughter who is studying abroad in Germany. At dinner time, we noticed something interesting. As we entered a restaurant that was nearly empty and asked for a table, we were politely told there were no tables as they were all reserved. Our daughter would promise them we would eat quickly, and a table would magically become open. As we looked at the reservation times that had denied us a table, they were often several hours in the future.
We learned dinner time is special family time in many areas of Europe. People will linger over a meal for hours, talking and laughing. Even small children seemed to be engaged and I think we saw only one antsy child in the almost three weeks we were in the various countries. We realized how quickly Americans tend to eat, when even with the long lags in restaurant service and having a relaxed meal we were finished in an hour or so.
Now I don’t know enough European families to know how much these long meals really make a meaningful difference, but I do know they can help your family. Now stay with me. I know most of you are probably laughing hysterically at the idea of a family dinner at all – much less a long one. Believe me, I get it. My husband’s work hours and our then young daughter’s need for an early dinner time often meant complete family meals were missed. I do want to challenge you though to try having a European dinner once a month this year (for those who like a serious challenge – make it once a week.)
Here’s why I think the challenge is worth the time and effort it may take you to have a long family meal regularly:
- It gives everyone a chance to reconnect in meaningful ways. You may have already realized, the older your children are, the less extended time you have with them. You may not even have noticed that days may go by with no more than brief, necessary exchanges between the various members of your family. This lack of connection can cause the members of your family to drift farther and farther apart. Not because of conflict, but because you just are no longer connected emotionally to each other. A long dinner gives you a chance to catch up with everyone and find out everything that is happening in their world.
- It gives parents a chance to influence the decisions and choices of their children. I am not talk about controlling them, but rather having a comfortable chance to have input. If you don’t know your daughter is having conflict with her best friend or your son is struggling with a decision over what classes he will take, you can’t give them the benefit of your experience and hopefully godly wisdom. A relaxed dinner will give you a chance to ask questions and provide advice. Who knows, you might even be able to tell stories about what happened to you when you were in a similar situation!
- It creates warm, happy, loving memories. Slight warning here. Leisurely dinners are not the place for lectures and arguments. If it helps, pretend you are having dinner with all adults or someone else’s children. A little advice is fine, but you want these experiences to be pleasant and fun. Save the lectures for another time. If the atmosphere is inviting, your children will begin to look forward to these dinners.
- It demonstrates to your children that you not only love them, but like them, too. I see so many parents make this mistake. When your children don’t feel like you are interested in them and their worlds, they think you don’t really like them. To a young person (really to us all), love equates to knowing and remembering what is important to us. It means being willing to listen to us intentionally and with warmth. It means asking good questions to show you are interested and engaged. Your children will tell others they know you love them, but do they feel like you like and enjoy them too? Taking the time for a very long meal and listening to whatever is on their hearts and minds with true interest, reinforces how very much you do care about them in ways they can understand and accept.
- It gives you an opportunity to share with them what God wants for their lives. I’m not talking about a sermon here (although fair warning, any godly advice may be labeled a “sermon” by your child!), just inserting where needed a godly principle or two. Repetition is important for placing God’s principles on the hearts and minds of your children. Long dinners give you more opportunities to share God with your kids.
- It gives you an opportunity to dream godly dreams. Ever heard about a great idea that was first jotted down on a dinner napkin at a restaurant or cafe? When you linger over a long dinner, conversation often begins to turn to “What if” or “Wouldn’t it be great” types of conversations. These are often the seeds for all sorts of wonderful godly dreams. Encourage each member and your family as a whole to dream these dreams at your long family dinners and then pursue them.
- You get to see a piece of their hearts. This may not happen your first couple of meals. Over time though, your children will begin revealing their hearts as they share more and more of their worlds with you. At times, this will reassure you and at others it may scare you. Breathe and thank God for the insight so you can do more focused teaching in areas where they still need to grow spiritually.
- Your kids get to know you as godly people who have interests, hobbies and even some fun on occasion. When you rarely interact with your kids, they tend to forget you had a life before they were born. They forget you were their age once. They forget you had similar experiences and emotions. They forget you still have interests, hobbies and friends – even if there isn’t much time for them at the moment. As you all share about your lives, you will get a chance to tell them about the things that happen to you. You can share how you leaned on God or how you sinned and were reminded why God’s way is always the best choice. Part of your children becoming adults is them realizing Mom and Dad are people, too. You may have to remind them at certain ages, that your humanness does not remove their responsibility to respect you as a parent. Overall though, it gives you an opportunity over time to find the interests and passions that will fuel your future relationship when they leave home.
Sold on trying the idea of a long family dinner, but worried you might not be able to pull it off well? In my next post, I will give you tips for hosting a successful family dinner night.