Valerie Steimle has been writing as a family advocate for the past 20 years. She is the mother of nine children living in southern Alabama and is the author of four books and a weekly newspaper column, Thoughts from the Heart.

Family Dinner Can Make a Difference

Mormon familyFrom the time that my oldest child (I have nine) could talk, we have eaten dinner together around the kitchen table.  Even with the interruption of TV shows, sporting events and unwilling participants, I have always thought that eating dinner together at least 3 days a week was important.  I didn’t know why I felt this way, but I did and insisted that we sit down to dinner together as many times as we could during the week.  I have given in every so often to a “picnic” dinner in front of the television or eating in shifts at certain times but for the most part I have been successful in scheduling dinner times together and it was a good time for me to check in with my children.  Today, 30 years later, we are still doing this with my youngest three and many times our dinner conversations would be the start of a great evening.

There has been so much written about the importance of spending time with our children and how parents should check in with their children’s lives.  According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), “’Parent Power’ is the most potent and underutilized tool to prevent teen substance abuse.”  What better way to get closer to your children on a regular basis than eating dinner together at the end of the day? CASA believes dinnertime is so important that they launched an annual event called “Family Day-A Day To Eat Dinner With Your Children.”  They chose the 4th Monday in September each year to especially schedule a meal with your children. But we don’t have to wait until September to eat dinner together.  We can plan it any day we like.  Some families plan special dinners on a weekly basis everyone to be home as in a Sunday afternoon. This helps keep a continuing schedule of family time together each week. Other families schedule meal times around weekly activities.  Whichever way you do it, the important thing is to follow through and do it.

Make Family Time a Priority

In a General Conference talk from April 2003, L. Tom Perry, one who is an apostle from the Quorum of the Twelve, a church leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called by friends of other faiths as the “Mormon Church”), reminds us how important families are in a “world of uncertainty and turmoil”.  He tells us:

..it is more important than ever to make our families the center of our lives and the top of our priorities.  We need to make our homes a place of refuge from the storm, which is increasing in intensity all about us.

Looking through a Better Homes and Gardens magazine at the doctor’s office a while ago, I found a great advertisement paid for by the Office of the National Drug Control.  Pictured was a family of six sitting around the table about to eat dinner and the ad said: “Studies show that kids who are closer to their parents are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.” Happy, stable children are more motivated to excel and set realistic goals for themselves. The time around the dinner table helps parents interact with their own children in a comfortable setting.  Children and parents are not always perfect together but communication is always better when the family is relaxed which creates stronger bonds.  Even for children with step-parents living in the home which can create awkward moments, eating together breaks the ice for everyone and communication can be successful.

Family Time Should Be Enjoyable and Comfortable

From June 2000, Parent Magazine, Ron Taffel suggests picking a night during the week and switching seats at the dinner table.  He says the “sense of novelty leads to fewer fights between kids and less wrangling over table manners.” Everyone would get a different perspective.

A check in with children (especially school aged) is so important.  If the idea of dinner every night is overwhelming, start with once a week.  Dinners don’t have to be fancy or even homemade.  They don’t even have to be in the kitchen.  Pick a spot comfortable for everyone without distraction.  Talking comes freely and parents will be surprised at some of the topic conversations.  As Ann Landers has said many times about eating together: “The point is to spend time with your children, talking about their day and yours, finding ways to work through problems and letting your children know you are available.”

So break out the napkins and utensils and plan a great meal with your children and make your home a place of refuge from the storms of life.

Additional Resources:

Spending time with your family is essential. The family is central to our Heavenly Father’s plan.

Attend a local meetinghouse with your family.

Request a free Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

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