Strengthening Families, One Meal at a Time. By Sara Wells
Have you seen Mormon.org’s summer campaign yet? It’s called #73Days of Summer, and every day we feature a new, wholesome, family-centered activity to help you strengthen your family and make powerful memories together. Follow Mormon.org on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and share photos of your own summer fun with the hashtag #73Days.
The dinner table sits as a focal point in most people’s kitchens, and my childhood home was no exception. We gathered around the same round table for all the years I lived under my parents’ roof. Dinnertime was always family time. It usually involved my mom telling everyone not to feed the dog under the table and my dad covertly dropping bits of meat at his feet. There were more spilled cups of milk than I can count and plenty of whining about eating one’s vegetables. But it was also the place we spent the most time together, and we always, always ate dinner together as a family.
Our dinner table had been passed down from my mother’s family; it was the table she ate at when she was a young girl. As an adolescent, I was sure it was created to withstand bombs during the war era with its bland design and solid steel frame that took a small army to move. Moving it is just what we did when I was 10 and we built a new house with a beautiful new kitchen. The old table, which had already seen years and years of family dinners, came right along with us. It wasn’t much to look at, and I once asked my mother why, as everything else in our home eventually got upgraded and improved, the old, unattractive table remained. She explained that once I was grown with children of my own I would understand and appreciate the table’s worth based purely on the fact that it was seemingly indestructible (she was right). She then said something that has stayed with me always. True to her humbly pious nature, she explained, “Besides, I don’t care so much what it looks like; I care about the people sitting around it.”
I’m now a mother myself, with four young boys, and our own dinner “table” takes many forms. Sometimes it’s set with our finest dishes and beautifully delicious home-cooked meals. Sometimes it’s a stack of paper plates on the kitchen island and a few boxes of pizza, and sometimes it’s even a bag of cheeseburgers while we’re all driving around in the car together. But just like in my childhood home, dinnertime is family time. I have always loved and appreciated how food has the ability to bring people together. It can cheer lonely hearts and comfort weary souls. It can be cause for celebration and commemoration, and almost every family develops their own culinary traditions that weave into the fabric of family life.
Time spent together gathered around a meal strengthens families and teaches lifelong principles of work, etiquette, responsibility, and social behavior. Since the time my boys were very young, we started a tradition at dinnertime. As we eat, each person gets a chance to tell three things about their day. They can be good things, tough things, fun things, or anything, really. What started as an attempt encourage family conversation and keep little ones at the table for a little longer quickly developed into a regular occurrence that now takes no prompting. My kids know that the dinner table is place to talk, to share, and to visit. With the hectic schedules most families endure today with various extracurricular activities, mealtime can be precious family time to reconnect and focus on ways to strengthen one another.
My parents recently moved once again, downsizing this time into their next phase of life. The old kitchen table moved once again and still sits in their kitchen.
With over 50 years of family dinners, I’m sure it has stories to tell, but more important, it was a token that sat at the focal point of our family unit and taught me the importance of regular family mealtime, a tradition I gladly continue in my home no matter how casual the meal. Because like my mother, I don’t so much care about the table as I do about the people sitting around it, and each meal can bring us closer together.