I love the idea of dinner—the coming together for conversation, connection, and a shared table. I like the idea of food and conversation happening around the kitchen table, filling both our stomachs and our hearts. The idea of roasted chicken, fresh from the oven, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans displayed on an impeccable table with candles glowing makes my heart sing.
That’s just not what dinner looks like at my house.
What my dinner table really looks like
Allow me to set the stage. It is 6:00 pm. It is the “losing it hour.” It is the end of the day and everyone is tired and hungry. The rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is trying to stay warm in the oven without drying out while I warm up the leftover rice and defrost some green beans that have just a touch of freezer burn. The table is littered with crumbs, scraps of paper, and eraser bits. I sit the food on top of it all so we can just eat already. My husband arrives home from a long day and, well, we’ve all had a long day.
We pray and begin to eat. And so it begins. Someone is chewing too loudly. There’s too much lemon pepper seasoning on the green beans. “She looked at me funny” is a constant refrain. Our questions about school end up with answers like, “We did math” and “I liked recess.”
At your house maybe the baby is throwing food and refusing to eat or maybe you are still waiting for the tardy teen to arrive. It is always something. Dinner is burned, attitudes are keeping things lively, or the disagreement from the morning has decided to return for the “losing it hour.” And on a really great night you get all three!
Invite joy to the table – a new way to do dinner
I am on a mission to rescue dinner from unrealistic expectations. My goal is smiles and the rest is just details. To begin this mission I bought three tins of jokes. I wanted to introduce a different expectation—one of connection through fun—and, at the very least, keep the grumpy at bay. For the most part it has worked. The eraser bits are still on the table, the chicken is dry, but we have smiles! About a week after starting this new way of dining my son checked out a book of jokes from the school library for us to enjoy at dinner. I call that winning!
Rescuing dinner from expectations has led to dinners full of fun. Grumpy still joins us for dinner every now and then of course, but we’ve stopped setting a place for him and instead have invited joy to the table.
Here’s a few more ideas, some I have tried and some I will implement soon to give grumpy the boot and invite joy to a place at our table.
– On Sunday nights we watch America’s Funniest Videos while we eat an easy dinner. There is always belly laughter and I LOVE IT.
– Grab some trivia cards from a board game and just ask the questions – no pieces or game board needed.
– Serve dinner that is only finger food – easy for the one prepping and fun for all.
– Buy or make some fun placemats.
– Speak with accents.
– Eat dinner with chopsticks. (Make chopsticks easy for kids to try with this tutorial! http://www.instructables.com/id/Chopstick-trainer-with-only-a-rubber-band-and-ch/)
– Turn on some music and allow it to set the tone for your meal. Are you having Mexican? Turn on some Latin tunes. Having grilled cheese for dinner? Jazz genre, of course. Have throwback night and introduce your kids to the music you listened to growing up.
– Eat a picnic on the living room floor.
One small win: Make dinner fun again by releasing your expectations. Introduce fun at dinner tonight in a way that your family will enjoy. Invite joy to the table.
You can read more from Bethany Howard at bethanyhoward.com. She writes about finding fuel for joy and growth in the details of the daily. Her greatest leadership exercise has been her roles as wife and mom to three. She is a graduate of Leverage: The Speaker Conference.