(Originally posted February 2020)
Electronic devices set aside, distractions minimized, and schedules cleared for our family dinner together, our family gathers around the dining room table and eagerly anticipates the customary evening ritual. Savory dishes waft their fragrance as we bow our heads, fold hands, and thank our Creator who once again blessed us with more than we need. Thanks given, we open our eyes to enjoy the feast spread before us. Love poured into serving dishes, we ladle out homemade goodness and spoon tasty nourishment onto our plates as we rehash the day, validate each other’s experiences, and share our dreams. (Did I mention that the meal was nutritionally and visually balanced, a stunning display of culinary acumen and nutritional wealth?)
No, that never happened. That was just my family dinner fantasy: to nurture souls and stomachs as we enjoyed the evening meal.
In reality, our dinnertime looked more scattered and much less portrait-worthy. We always squeezed in the pre-meal thank you to God, but the rest often became a free-for-all. Kids fought, electronics were confiscated, and distractions reigned. Two table-height dogs stuck their snouts toward weak-willed family members, eliciting regular chiding from me to ignore the begging retrievers. Complaints abounded. Whining ensued. Conversation stopped. No one wanted to share what happened in school. Apparently, our kids spent all day in abject boredom and irritation within the school walls. (Those poor teachers, dealing with teenagers all day!)
Why did I nurture this fantasy that the four of us would enjoy a nice dinner together?! I set myself up for disappointment every time. I felt more like a table referee or an interrogation lawyer than a mom relaxing with her dear ones. My husband often smiled a look of commiseration, as if to say, “Here we are at the dinner table – is this is what you wanted?!”
Now, in the reflection of my empty-nest, rear-view mirror, my memories have softened around the edges. I miss the smiles and energy of teenagers around the table. My recall of the piercing whines and exclamatory disgusts has faded, as I remember my love for those teenagers. Previously, I told my husband that dinnertime was an eighteen-year training program and we would not be the beneficiaries. Not so sure how that is working out now, though. A recent phone call to my college student revealed that he was standing up and eating chips and salsa for dinner. My young adult daughter likes to cook, but often stands in the kitchen for meals instead of eating with roommates.
Is the connection-time of eating together merely a mother’s fantasy? Has family mealtime become a disappearing cultural norm as parents prep a rushed meal before everyone leaves for evening activities? How do we relate to a generation that considers face time an electronic concept provided by cell phones, rather than real people who interact together in a group setting? Will they develop the interpersonal skills—communication, empathy, teamwork, and listening—those challenging aspects of working with people? How better to develop those “soft skills,” than with family members, those people you are forced to get along with on a regular basis? These are my big-picture questions.
Meanwhile, I had to let go of that perfect dinner fantasy long ago. My job is to love God first, and then to love and nurture my kids to the best of my God-given ability.
Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Psalm 127:3
Lord God, thank you for the gift and blessing that you have given me in my children. Lord, your legacy is what I pray for in their lives. Nurture in them the desire to follow you above all. Help me to savor any and all time I get to spend with family. In Jesus name. Amen.