Nesting: Family Dinners

Family dinners are a great time to gather, share stories, and support each other. Over the last four years, I’ve heard more comments about “I can’t go to family dinners any more because of divisions over politics.” And “my family doesn’t like my spouse and treats him poorly. He won’t go to family gatherings anymore and I don’t expect him too.”

Home is meant to be safe and that includes for a family dinner. Some of us were fortunate to grow up and emerge into adulthood with safe homes and enjoyable family dinners. Some of us were not. Focusing on the goal of enjoyable, safe, supportive family dinners is reasonable.

Here are some things you can do to move toward fun family dinners at which everyone who behaves kindly is welcome to the table.

  • Set some dinner table ground rules such as:
    • No talking with your mouth full.
    • Use your napkin.
    • Only kind words, stories, and jokes.
    • None of these things: hitting; see-food; swearing; criticisms.
    • Set topics that are off-limits in your family because they erupt into fights.
  • Ask people to contribute something to the meal.
    • Setting the table counts.
    • Making a portion of the meal.
    • Bringing something, as in potluck style family dinners.
    • Bringing dinner.
  • Guide conversation.
    • Again, you may want to set off-limits topics.
    • Have some easy-to-answer questions for everyone to talk about:
      • What new restaurant have you been to and liked?
      • What movie have you seen recently?
      • What events are going on this weekend that we might want to go to?
      • Which hiking trails are you enjoying lately?
      • What games/events are on this weekend?
      • What are you planning for your vacation this year?
      • Offer a table topic or theme for discussion: movies, good books, new places in town to check out, vacation hot-spots, or something else that will involve everyone.
    • As the dinner host, it is your “job” to keep everyone welcome in conversation. When things get tense, redirect the conversation. It is okay to say “Let’s change the topic.” And then to offer a question such as one of those listed above.

Family dinners are meant to bring out the best in us. Whether it is a summer picnic or a holiday meal, people want to feel good spending time together. Do what you can to contribute to positive family dinners – to which people will want to return.

As an author, facilitator, community contributor, business owner, and empty-nest step-parent, Jana watches for the ways in which we nest to create HOME and shares her discoveries in the blog Nesting.

Nesting is about the objects and experiences that create a sense of home. Without home, it is difficult to maintain health, find joy, or to be productive during our workdays. Enjoy the Nesting series of blogs on your search for a deep sense of home. –Jana

Jana Kemp

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