When Little Red Riding Hood ventured into the woods, it was to share her dinner with her sick grandmother. When the Three Bears came home and found that Goldilocks had eaten their porridge, they felt violated. That was an important meal and they had planned on sharing it as a family. As our lives get busier and busier, sometimes school seems to be the only unbreakable rule. Everything else, even sleep, is rearranged, rescheduled or skipped, in the interests of sports, ballet classes, evening meetings or even peace. Too often, this includes dinner.
As parents, we teach our children the moral and ethical codes that will shape their lives. When they’re adults, we know they’ll need their own strength of character and moral fortitude to make decisions more than they’ll need the ability to perform a ballet plié or swing a tennis racquet. It’s important to take advantage of the most opportune time of the day and not let busy schedules push family dinners onto the back burner. Or we sacrifice one of the most important rituals our children will remember and cherish.
If we do, we also sacrifice the teachable moments that so often arise from a casual dinner table conversation. To raise children with strong characters and the moral intelligence to make good decisions, it’s important to have conversations with them over and over. We have to be available when they have specific questions and we have to be ready to respond when they just “happen” to mention the tip of an iceberg. The next time, that iceberg may not surface in our vicinity until it’s too late.
Dinner table conversation is also prime time for building vocabulary, honing problem-solving skills and encouraging the verbal skills that will be necessary for so much of a child’s school success. We are a highly verbal society and we’re leaving a lot of children behind when we don’t give them ample opportunity to practice those skills. Dinner is the ideal time to be uninterrupted (turn off the phone) and unhurried. When your children are sharing their day, or presenting you with a dilemma to discuss, or even just talking to siblings, don’t rush off to the next event. The dishes can wait; television can wait; even homework can wait. There’s nothing more important or more valuable to your child’s growth and development than “breaking bread” with family.