Eating together is a lost art nowadays. With our lives at high speed, every minute crammed to the fullest, it is easy to find ourselves missing family members at mealtime. This is especially true as our children enter the middle school and teen years, as practices, rehearsals and other activities compete for family time at the end of the day. And yet, as a mother, my job is not merely to make sure that my children only get to all their commitments and appointments on time. We have the opportunity through our homes to create rhythms and routines that allow our families to connect.
And what better time to do this than over a meal. Dinner time makes the most sense to most families because it is the end of the work and school day. However, if that is not possible for you, as mothers, I urge you to fight for this time. Serve dinner later or earlier if you need to, so that as many people in your family as possible can be together.
For us, eating dinner together is a priority. It is not easy, but I do work hard to establish this time as often as possible. For me, it is worth the inconvenience, for it is over the dinner table that we have some of our best conversations with our kids. This is when the teachable moments arise. This is when we get to hear not just what happened during the day, but what they are thinking and feeling.
When we miss out on meals together, we also miss out on relationships. We miss out on family unity. We miss out on discipleship opportunities. Moms, I beg you to guard your mealtimes. Be present. It's a small price to pay for 30 minutes out of your day.
With that said, that is the priority and focus of the dining room: relationship. While we still use the dining table for homework and art projects, the bigger purpose is time together---with each other, with friends, enjoying relationship. Good food is great. Good food shared with joy and celebration is even better.
We do not have a formal dining room, but that really doesn't matter. In fact, some of our favorite meals have not even been in the dining room at all! Our youngest one loves having dinner on a blanket spread on the floor, with paper plates and forks, inside or outside. My husband has made dinner for me and set it out on a card table, away from the kitchen so I enjoy the meal and not see my "office." Simply having a dining room doesn't make a family. Eating together doesn't guarantee it either, but it is a step in the right direction.
So we eat simply every day. Our table setting is simple enough for a preschooler to manage: napkins, silverware, dishes. But I like to break out the china and the linens every now and then too. One day, my husband and I dream of hosting a retreat house, when mealtimes can not only be a time of relationship but also one of beauty: candles, flowers and linens that help me to rest and not try to rush through my meal. Right now, with kids, it seems like we're in a circus, but it is amazing how those simple additions can help us to slow down and enjoy.
But we don't have to wait until then. My goal is to do this once a month for our Sabbath dinner or creating this kind of atmosphere when we have guests. These are the times when I really want to enhance the setting to help usher us into those times of relationship.
If leisurely meals are also a dream of the future for you, I encourage you to not give up. I'm not. But instead of scrapping the whole idea until the perfect day arrives, let's look for ways to make our dining rooms places of connection, rest, and laughter. We can begin by learning how to ask good questions. Check out this link for ideas!
Another thing I can do is learn from others. I have zero creativity when it comes to this area. My favorite site is Between Naps on the Porch. I've been able to pick up ideas on how to use the settings I have and dress them up. I can spend hours there! And the good news is my dishes don't even have to match!
Most of all, a dining room is what you make it to be. Even if you have to use paper plates for takeout dinner, we can set the stage in our homes. I am the first to admit that it takes a little energy, and at the end of a long day, that commodity is usually in short supply. But if I take the time to plan ahead, to visualize, and to prepare, I hope it will come together with less effort.
Heavenly Father, may our table be a place where You are welcome. As we break bread with one another, may it be a way that we extend Your hand to one another as well. Fill our dining room with joy, delight and peace. May it be a place of rest and refreshment after a long and busy day. Weave our lives together as we sit around the table in fellowship with You and one another. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Our planner for the dining room