Family Dinner

The Importance of the Family Dinner

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families found themselves spending more time with one another. As events and activities were canceled due to safety concerns and social distancing guidelines, many people began to spend more time with their families. The pandemic may have “forced” us to stop running around after school with kids from one activity to the next. Kids might have spent much less time with friends outside of the home, incidentally seeking companionship among siblings and parents. Family dinners may have re-emerged as a daily activity in many homes.

Returning to Normal After the Pandemic

Once restrictions are lifted, will our lives go back to “normal”? While many activities will return to normal, and we reconnect with friends and loved ones, we might have enjoyed the “resurgence” in some of these family rituals. While everyone wants things to go back to a pre-pandemic space, was there a silver lining during this situation? Did the restrictions make us reflect upon our priorities and realize what was most important to us?

Some people found when things began shutting down that their “normal” was causing stress. We no longer experienced specific anxieties, like the “fear of missing out” or struggling to say “no” to social obligations. While many experienced increased concern over uncertainty and adjusting to being in the home more, we might have found that some restrictions kept us feeling grounded and centered. Instead of being off in a hundred directions and overwhelmed with being “on-the-go,” we might have found some peace in spending more time with our families.

Structure in the Home

After a year of living with the pandemic, many have likely found having “structure” in their lives helped them get through the challenges presented. To keep our days from running one into the next, many relied on routine activities to keep them feeling grounded. As things return to “normal,” we should consider what we want to bring back into our lives, what we would like to disregard, and what we should continue doing.

Why is the “Family Dinner” So Crucial to the Structure of Our Home Lives?

Family dinners help to provide a structure within our homes. Co-founder of Fire Mountain Residential Center,  Aaron Huey, often brings up the importance of family dinners in the “Beyond Risk and Back” podcast. He cites four items that help lower the risk of kids engaging in risky behaviors:

  1. Meaningful activity between 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm
  2. Parents knowing the parents of kids’ friends
  3. Open and honest conversations 
  4. Family dinners

Within these four items, the family dinner provides parents with the opportunity to get to know what is going on in their kids’ lives while also providing an activity within the crucial “3:00 pm to 7:00 pm” window. The family dinner is where everyone can discuss their day together, helping parents learn more about their kids’ interests, challenges, friends, etc. Family dinners also give parents a chance to discuss their everyday lives and how they deal with challenges. 

How to Have Meaningful Conversations at Dinnertime

Some of us may not have had much experience with family dinners growing up, depending upon our home lives. While we may have spent more time with our kids during the pandemic, we might have struggled to engage in meaningful conversations. Kids can be challenging to reach; however, as parents, we might find it helpful to have some “routines within a routine.” Sitting down for dinner at the same time most evenings is part of the routine. Engaging in conversation is the other. 

Some parents feel like their kids are withholding or not interested in talking with them. Sometimes, we have to draw our conversation by asking meaningful questions beyond, “How was your day?” (Most people reflexively say, “fine,” which doesn’t help us build relationships!).

We can create “structural conversations” to help. By asking similar questions each day, our family will know what to expect, and they will start to think about their day in terms of “what will I talk to my family about?” We can try going around the table and asking everyone to share two things:

  1. What was the best part of your day?
  2. What was the most stressful part of your day?

These two questions can draw kids out to discussing significant parts of their lives. Family members can celebrate each others’ achievements and troubleshoot challenges together. Parents also need to share details of their day while being mindful of not oversharing (steer clear of anything that will make your kids worry about your finances or relationship with your spouse). Parents can share how they dealt with the stress of their challenges to set an example for their kids. 

Before things go “back to normal,” take some time to think about what you would like to see in your family life as your new normal.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many found that while parts of their lives were disrupted, they became closer to their families. Routines and structure within the home became critical to surviving, as we needed to share our space more with family members. Some people might have enjoyed the additional time with their families or felt some relief from slowing down due to closures and social restrictions. As we begin to break out of the pandemic restrictions, we might want to reflect on some aspects of family life that changed during this time. We can define what our “new normal” will look like following the pandemic. Family dinners are one of the essential things that can help kids stay away from risky behaviors. For more help for you and your family, call Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center at (303) 443-3343. Our parenting workshops and parent weekends can help you build a structure in your family life. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest.

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