Strangers living under the same roof: The curious case of the disappearing family dinner

The nightly family dinner is fast becoming a rare occassion and no longer a daily routine. We are talking about that hearty meal parents and children enjoy after a hard day at the office or school, and catch up on the happenings of the day.  

These days, most of us end up hardly seeing other members of our family, let alone having a meal together. Blame it on our hectic lifestyles – parents leaving early and coming back late; children busy with school, after-school tuition and activities and when back at home, are mostly holed up in their own rooms, engaged on the computer or handphone.

The thing is, we know how unhealthy this way of life is. We know how important it is for a family to spend time to interact and bond with each other. And we don’t need research to remind us that a healthy family – where members talk and listen to each other, accept differences, keep in touch and be there for one another – is one that spends quality time together.

So, do you think your family lacks family time? Are you not seeing each other much, let alone spending enough time together? Does that bother you enough to want this situation to change?

Decide – Desire Change

No matter what research or studies have shown regarding the importance of family time, what matters is your personal conviction. So you know you should spend more time with your family and you know it is going to take some effort to make that happen. Just how badly do you want to change the current situation to actually do something about it?

Making that decision to desire change, is the all-important first step. Next is getting everyone on board. Impress upon each member of the family the importance and desirability to do this ‘project’. Make it a priority.

Plan – Make it Sustainable
Then, think of how you want to make it happen. You can’t leave spending time with each other to chance, like bumping into each other at the dining table or in front of the TV.  In fact, sitting in front of the living room TV is so yesterday. Think about it – with each of us watching the latest movie or Youtube video on our own mobile phone or tablet, the TV is no longer relevant! So how?

As cold and as improbable as it may sound, you need to schedule your time to allow for the family to meet. Like making an appointment. Believe it or not, that ”appointment” is necessary in this day and age, to get everyone to do something together. How about making a point to have one meal a day, together? Having dinner at a time when everyone should be home is a good start. Put that phone away. Make that dinner time an opportunity to sit down for say, 30 minutes, to just eat and talk. Ask each other about their day at the office or school. Listen to them and take a interest in what is shared.  

When it comes to successful planning, sustainability is key. Make your plan easily achievable in order for it to be sustainable. Start small. No point in having grand, ambitious plans which work for 2 weeks then die a natural death.

Commit – Stick to it

As it is with things that really matter, family time is also about quality, not quantity. So start small but go big on the commitment. If every member of the family sees the value of, and commits to, that one meal a day together, then success is in your hand. And success will breed more success.

When you start to talk and get interested in each other’s lives, you’ll find that you have more to talk about. The more you chat, the more you have to say to each other. Then extend that dinner to having more activities together. Schedule a movie night. Watch the latest Netflix offering with your teenager. Try to participate in what they enjoy just to know more about their interest and latest trends, to “enter their world”. With younger children, there are even more opportunities to spend time playing together. Choose activities to cater to all interests and let everyone come up with ideas as to what you can do as a family. If you live in a residential area with clubhouse facilities, playgrounds and parks, then your family can enjoy spending quality time, just outside your front door. 

Family time is the best time to inculcate family traditions and values in a non-rebuking way. Correcting your children and showing them your values while doing a project, or playing a team game together is more effective. They will see the value of team work, listening to everyone’s opinion, fair sharing of work, helping each other, having fun, laughing at one’s own mistake, witnessing the respect parents have for each other, etc. … children learn best from example.

Actually, there are many ways we can spend family time and it is not that we are short of ideas. It is more about realising how crucial it is to spend time together before each child grows up and go his or her own way. The bond that you create now will last a lifetime. It is what will keep your family together through thick and thin.