Family dinner


We have family dinner a few nights a week.  Sunday, always, without variation.  And usually one or two other nights a week.  Understanding as I do how crucial family dinner is to happy, well-adjusted children, I feel guilt about this.  I wish we sat down more often.  But we do it when we can, and what continues to surprise and delight me is how much both Grace and Whit love it when we have family dinner.  “Are we having family dinner?” one of them will ask, breathlessly, if they see me setting the dining room table.  We always have family dinner in the dining room.  We always have candles, and usually flowers.  And I love family dinner.  There are lots of reasons why, but here are some:

Compliments.  Grace started a tradition years ago which has stuck, and which I love.  At dinner each of us says “compliments” which really are specific thanks to each family members. We take turns thanking each member of the family for specific things they did that we noticed and appreciated over the past day or two.  We do this without fail when we all sit down together, and I absolutely love it.

Using the silver.  I learned this from my mother, who always believed in using the silver (and still does).  I do too (we have the same silver pattern, incidentally).  Part of what makes this doable is that I put my silver in the dishwasher without hesitation.  And Kathryn introduced me to silver polish wipes recently, which changed my life.

Cheers. We always cheers at the start of dinner, and the sight of the four glasses, three water and one milk, always makes me smile.
There’s usually some yelling, “Grace!  We’re waiting for you!” or “Whit!  Anytime now!” but once we’re all seated, before we begin, we cheers as a family.

A sense of celebration. There’s something about setting the table, lighting candles, and sitting down together, without books or electronics, that I fiercely love.  It’s a way of celebrating this ordinary life, of pausing in the slipstream of life to note how rich it is, if head-spinningly fast-moving.  It’s the practice of being grateful for the poem.

Traditions are important to me, and this is one that has become a backbone of our family life.  I dearly hope that Grace and Whit will grow up remembering family dinner, and seeing each others’ faces in the glow of candles, and taking the time to think of and articulate specific things we are grateful for about each other.

Do you have family dinner?  Or other family traditions that mark everyday life and that matter a lot to you?  I’d love to hear about them.

33 thoughts on “Family dinner”

  1. We have family dinner about 3-4 times a week and the kids, even the teenagers, still value it. And just about every single time, I sit in my chair and a sense of “I love this family” overwhelms me.

  2. I love family dinner too (and I’m totally stealing the idea of compliments–so great!). We do not have an eat in kitchen or breakfast bar, so by default we have it in the dining room, which is nice because it feels more deliberate and special without having to see all the cooking clutter around. We eat together probably 3-4 nights a week, with me cooking most of those, but every Friday being “pizza take-out night” from our local favorite spot. My daughter is still at the funny age where you never know where the conversation will turn, so it gets a bit silly sometimes (and the very reason my husband and I still have a few nights a week when we eat after she’s gone to bed–it’s nice to reconnect like that, even if it’s to determine without interruption who needs to pick up some more coffee or schedule a contractor). We have “our seats”, always use cloth napkins, let the machine answer calls, and no distractions are on/around. It really is lovely, and reminds me of when I was growing up and had similar dinners too. Like you, I hope this is something she remembers when she’s older.

  3. I love family dinners – but sadly it gets so hard during the week with our crazy schedules. But Sunday is a must! We do the good news/bad news thing, which I love. I’ve also been surprised by some of what the kids have revealed in their tableside announcements. Many interesting conversations have resulted.

  4. I feel sad to say that we never do this…we have this beautiful dining room, silver, china, crystal, and we never use it. This weekend, we will. What a fantastic idea.

  5. Am so pleased I have made an impact on your silver! You can of course attribute that to my own brilliant mother. And totally inspired by your compliments idea too. We have a “rose/thorn”, “good thing/bad thing” ritual which my children love. (O-dog often starts it before we even sit down!) xoxo

  6. Sounds lovely. I, too, make it a point to eat dinner together several nights a week. It’s harder now that one is working and another doesn’t get home from crew til 7:15, but I always wait so we can sit together.

    Having tea in the evening is another tradition of ours. The kids feel a little grown up for it I think, and they view it as a treat.

  7. I love family dinners. It is one of my fondest memories as a child and we eat dinner together in our house at least 4 times a week.

    My favorite tradition growing up: My father order fruit cake from Collin Street Bakery every holiday season. In the mornings, for breakfast, we listened to Hindi music, drank chai, and ate our fruitcake. This one tradition carries and comforts me, especially after his passing.

  8. My Mother always said, don’t save your good china, silver etc for company. Who is better than your own family? We always had flowers on the table, not expensive bouquets, maybe one flower is all that she could afford. Always make the dinner colorful….not white fish, potatoes ans cauflower , even a hot dog can be eye caching. We didn’t have money but love, respect and always helping others. Spreading Gods love not b words but by action.

  9. I love family dinner – it’s one of my favorite memories from childhood. Now that I’m grown up, I’m beginning to understand why my mother fought so fiercely for it.

    My husband is working a lot of evenings right now, so we are struggling to have family dinner regularly – but it’s a gift when it does happen.

  10. I love that they still value it as teenagers. I hope mine do too!! And yes, that overwhelm … it’s wonderful!

  11. Really hard. But so worth it when we can do it. I don’t beat myself up that it’s not every night, but focus on the fact that we do it at all!!

  12. Love the rose/thorn good/bad tradition. And yes, you have made an impact on my silver, bigtime. Thanks, Nell. xox

  13. I love that you do that with the tea. I think they draw a lot from the small traditions, I really do. I hope so, at least!

  14. I love the tradition that you describe, and how wonderful that you can carry it on even after your father’s passing. I’m sure that would (and does) make him very happy. xox

  15. Yes. Words not action is a big focus of mine these days. I just think it’s so important to realize that what we do matters and what we say doesn’t, really … and when there’s a discrepancy between those things, the children sure realize it!!

  16. “Traditions are important to me…” — yes! Sometimes I lament that we don’t do family dinners in a more formal way, but husband is usually still at work & my little guys are…little. I remind myself that *any* tradition that works for your family can be meaningful–in our case, often a long walk home from preschool when I get to check in with each boy, and (hopefully) there will be a future time when we are all able to sit down together and talk through our days. And LOVE “Compliments.” So sweet!

  17. Lindsey, I don’t know if you remember, but I wrote you several months ago to ask you how your family “did” family dinner, as we were struggling with it in our own home: I was trying to do it every night, without fail, with a preschooler who goes to bed at 7 and a husband who come home at 6:30. Needless to say, the whole thing was stressful, and your “model” gave me permission to do it only some of the time. So now we do family dinner, without fail, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, and on the other nights we eat in some other configuration. And you know? SO much less stress for everyone. Thanks!

  18. I love the idea if making dinner a bit fancy. We usually have family dinner every night as the boys aren’t into a lot if sports yet and I love how much I learn about their days. For about a month my husband worked late and didn’t eat with us and it was a loss in my day for sure.We still eat together now that Scott is gone (obviously as someone has to feed those 2) but it’s in the kitchen and not at all fancy. You have inspired me to spice things up with some glamour.

  19. I truly love this! We do try to eat around our kitchen table often but you have inspired me to take it up a notch and really set the dining room table once in a while. You make it seem doable: candles, flowers, silver and cheers!

  20. I DO remember! Of course. So glad to know that giving yourself permission has been helpful …

  21. Yes, yes – I think that there are a variety of rituals that work for a variety of families, and even those vary depending on the season of life. It’s just about finding what it is that’s a match for a particular moment in time! xox

  22. Love the compliments idea! (Am stealing that one). We do a “high/low” moment of the day, which the kids will automatically ask now when we sit down. I also love the “cheers!” idea. Reminds me of the Japanese tradition of saying “Ita-daki-masu” before each meal, which means “I gratefully receive,” and also “Gochiso sama deshita” after the meal, meaning “It was quite a feast.”

  23. I too love family dinners. It’s the time that I feel most connected to my loves and hear more of what’s happening in their worlds. I think because we had family dinner when I was growing up I wanted to continue the tradition. Thank you for reminding me how important it is!

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