I've had the opportunity to speak at a number of different events in February and March, mainly talking about families and relationships. Last weekend, I was speaking at a parish men's group on creating genuine encounters within the family. At the end of the talk, I opened up for some Q & A and got a great question. One of the men asked "How important is it really to have dinner together as a family?"
Before I get into my answer, a little context. This was a parish in Northern Virginia. I've lived and practiced all over the country and I've never seen an area more demanding on family time than Northern Virginia. Everybody is overworked, over-scheduled, and overtired. Traffic is a mess (the stretch of I-95 that I take to get home was recently named the most congested in the country. Great job, everyone!), cost of living is high, and the pressures and expectations are higher still.
So when this gentleman was asking how important is it for us to eat together as a family, what he was likely saying was, "My kids have some activity every single night of the week and with my commute, I don't get home until 7pm if I’m lucky. Family time is very much more aspirational than a reality. Is that a problem for my family?"
Yes, eating dinner together matters and is extremely important. Even if it's the only 30 minutes of the day that the family is able to be together in one place. Dinner time is a key opportunity for us to connect with all the other members of the family. We can share about our day or discuss opinions. Most importantly, we can listen to what the other people around the table have to say. This shows them how much we respect their dignity and value their perspective.
What does not show that we respect the perspective of others is allowing ourselves to be intentionally distracted. To that end, keep phones and tablets away from the table. They're too distracting. Keep the TV off. It can be hard enough as it is to connect as a family, so why invite things that make it more challenging by added extra obstacles and distractions.
Given how busy we all are between work and the demands of dozens of different activities, there seems to be less time available for families to be together. So why wouldn't we take the low hanging fruits and make dinner time a priority for our families so we can reconnect everyday.
This week, commit to having at least one undistracted family dinner as a family. Afterward discuss the experience with every member of the family.