The Family Dinner That Changed Our Family Dinners
This post represents a compensated editorial partnership with The Family Dinner Project. All storytelling and opinions are my own.
I grew up with family dinners. Almost every night, my parents, two sisters and I would sit around the table discussing our days, telling jokes and good naturedly expressing for the millionth time how much we hated my mom’s meatloaf. It was a comforting, comfortable nightly routine that I intended to share with my own kids. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always been the case.
Like most families, we’re busy with sports practices, homework and crazy work schedules. Add to that my non-existent enthusiasm for cooking, and it’s no surprise that our evening meals are sometimes more grab ‘n go than sit ‘n savor. I’ve always told myself that this is okay because it’s not like my boys and husband and I don’t talk to each other. We do. A lot. Well, two of us mostly talk about Minecraft and nachos, but that still counts, I think.
So, that said, when I heard about The Family Dinner Project and their movement to encourage families to share food, fun and conversations about things that matter, I sort of—shrugged. I honestly didn’t think we needed something like that. I thought we were doing just fine without “meaningful mealtime interactions.”
“Let’s just try it, anyway,” I told my husband Chris. “Let’s eat and try to have a ‘real family discussion’ and see how it goes.” So last night, that’s what we did. And I’ll be the first to admit that it was awesome.
The four of us sat down for a meal of pasta, and after the usual chitchat, Chris brought up the issue of race in America. It’s not something that we’ve ever shied away from discussing honestly with our kids, but we usually only talk about it when they have questions about people they’ve heard about on the news. Most recently, people like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. (And the luxury of not “needing” to address race with our kids is the textbook definition of white privilege, something we also discussed with the boys. How their experience in the world is not always the same as that of their friends who aren’t white.)
What I found to be so special about our dinner last night was that for the first time in a long time, we didn’t just give the kids a quick answer to their questions. We took our time to explore issues like racial profiling and stereotypes, and that helped them feel freer to contribute their own ideas and experiences. Sam, my 13-year-old, mentioned that he knew the names of the African-American kids at his school because there are only two of them.
My 11-year-old, Jack, asked about the NBA players wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. “I think it’s good they’re doing that,” he said, “Because they’re upset, but I’m not sure why.” We then had the opportunity to tell him why they, and millions of others, were so angry about the Eric Garner injustice and how they’re expressing it through marches and in social media using #blacklivesmatter. It was a good reminder that the kids may know a little about something in the news, but they don’t have the full story and/or understand the history and context of the current events.
Besides being very eye-opening, our dinner conversation also couldn’t have been timelier. Not only is Martin Luther King Jr. Day coming up, but we’re headed to Dallas this weekend to visit the 6th Floor Museum dedicated to President Kennedy. It includes many displays about the Civil Rights movement, and I feel that our dinner was the perfect jumping off point for the conversations we’ll have after the boys see them.
So thank you to The Family Dinner Project for inspiring me to place more importance on our nightly meals. I know our family dinner last night was just the first of many more to come.
This month, The Family Dinner Project has partnered with Points of Light’s America’s Sunday Supper (held on January 18th) to inspire #familydinnerforward. Join the movement and pledge to host an America’s Sunday Supper. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s vision of people of diverse backgrounds interacting on personal levels, America’s Sunday Supper encourages people to share a meal and discuss issues that affect their communities, to increase racial and cultural understanding and, to promote unity.Published January 16, 2015. Last updated June 27, 2018.