Trying to have a conversation at the dinner table is HARD work for two reasons.
1. We are just trying to PUT THE FOOD IN THE MOUTH.
Who cares about talking when there are kids who don’t want to eat, need their food cut, need more milk from the fridge, need a napkin, need us to “Airplane Spoon” their food into their mouths…
We’re tired from the day, and our energy, patience, and good parenting ideas are rapidly coming to a close. Sometimes my team-mate husband and I are just trying to “get through” with our dignity in tact.
2. We are fighting with modernity.
Today, we text, message, and inbox. I am guilty of being out of practice with listening, speaking responsively, and making quality conversation especially with our family.
I have definitely experienced the draw toward friendships that center around black and white words. Texting is easier, I can communicate when I have time, when I feel like it, and in short blurts.
But to engage, to invite, to put the phone down, to walk away from Facebook Messenger; it is there that I can see three-dimensional smiles on my kids faces when we laugh together. I am available for a welcome home hug to my husband.
So, what are some things we CAN do at the dinner table to encourage conversation.
Start Talking! About anything, everything! When Eric and I realized our table conversation was pretty non-existent it took us a while to get good at it again. Our first attempts at conversation were a little rough, but we kept going.
Eric and I start the conversation between him and I. This makes us feel united, like it’s him and I together. Whatever might be going on food wise doesn’t get to rob us of our relationship.
Eric and I normally start with giving a few quick recaps from the day. If I just go from beginning to end of my day: that’s a great start. It might sound silly, but that’s all I could do mentally for a while-recite facts and information.
My brain can now handle a little more, so we sometimes discuss current events, talk about what we’re reading, or talk about plans for our future. That is more of the fun stuff we talked about when we were dating!
Our kids are expected to be good listeners and not interrupt. While Eric and I are talking, we try to do it in short bursts and give the kids time to interject so we don’t try their patience while they’re listening.
As for leading the kids to share about their days, it goes better when I comment, not question. For instance, if I say, “Eva tell Daddy what you made in art at Pre-School”. She will freeze up and not say anything. But, if I lead with a comment about Eva’s art at preschool and stop talking, she will usually pick up the conversation ball and tell us everything.
It is amazing what a change has taken place at our table. When Eric and I are less focused on the bites going into the kids mouths and talk about our days, we look down and see our children have been eating well while they are listening to us. That was an unexpected, but wonderful benefit!
We also didn’t expect that we would be teaching our children about communication and that they would be better communicators through our modeling. We are also setting up an expectation in their minds of what good speaking and good listening looks like and we HOPE that carries into their dating years.
For school-aged children all the way up to high school we think lead off questions are a wonderful idea. Angela used these Chat Pack for Kids and loved them. Our family also likes the un-game, there are many different versions to choose from.
I think the main thing is to try. Try to have a conversation, even when you are interrupted 50 times, even when you haven’t had a proper conversation with your husband in a few years, even when someone at your table looks down at phone alerts and moves their thumbs instead of their tongue at your table.
Try to win back the art of a good conversation. IF you make your table a place where your children feel listened to and loved they will bring their friends home to YOUR table instead of going somewhere else to eat. IF you make your table a place where you can dream of a new deck and a kitchen renovation you will feel excited even if they are never built. IF you make your table a place where your husband sees your face light up when he tells you he did well at a work project, he will love and cherish that dinner table.
May your food be delicious, but my friend, may your conversation be SO DELIGHTFUL.