I have been thinking a lot about our family rhythm and mealtimes. These are the ways our family moves day-to-day and stays somewhat balanced. My husband and I comment often about how much prep work it takes to keep our family moving along in a (somewhat) harmonious way. One thing we do is have our evening meal together, as a family. Dinner time is our major anchor of the day.
During my childhood, our family mealtimes were tense. We always had to walk on eggshells around my dad– you just never knew when he was going to blow. I learned to eat as quickly as possible and excuse myself to my room to avoid the temper- flares. I’m sure the value I place on family meal-time has its basis in correcting that childhood stressor.
Also, as I’ve learned how important gut health is and how our stress levels affect our digestive processes it only makes sense to have harmony around mealtimes.
Fine Tuning the Engine
This is one important piece of our daily rhythm. As I mentioned, it takes a lot of energy to make it happen. Food is one of our highest budget items, we plan, prep, and work ahead of time so that the evening transition is relatively smooth.
Our daily schedules are full. We have many different places to be, many different meal “shifts”. However, we work to adjust and adapt our schedules so that everyone can participate in our evening meal. Dinner is the time we all round out the day together. Even when we have crazy days, we try to keep this as close to “normal” as possible.
The larger our family has grown, and the more mouths we have to feed, the more predictability is necessary. Having regular meal and snack times is an anchor that helps the rest of the family rhythms to fall into place. The kids generally know what to expect in the few hours after each meal or snack.
Transitioning to a Family Meal
As we move into our evening meal, there are few things we do to set a positive atmosphere. Since the table is the center of our focus for many other things, we make sure all of the days projects and toys are cleaned up and add a “special” touch. This is often a candle or flowers, and sometimes cloth napkins.
I like to make sure the atmosphere is relaxed and conducive to digestion. The familiarity, the regularity, and the calm all promote healthy digestion and mental attitudes around our food. We don’t have television, news, or any distractions at the dinner table and we keep our conversation light and positive.
My husband is great at promoting gratitude as we start our meal. Sometimes we start our meal sharing 1 high and 1 low point of our day. This lets us decompress without dwelling on a negative. When Keenan was small we would start our meal with a verse as a way to promote gratitude. I have found many nice blessings in books, or it could be based on your religious preference.
All hands are on deck with our dinner preparation and serving. Each person has a role in getting it together. Generally, I do the cooking. My oldest is in charge of after-dinner dishes, Gus guides the little kids and helps them set the table and fold the napkins. He also cuts and preps their food and gets them settled and ready to eat. For me, this is a huge relief. Not everything is on my shoulders and I can actually sit and enjoy the food I have prepared.
The Busy Table, Rhythm as Discipline
In our home, our table is one of the busiest locations in the house. We all gather for many reasons. It is our “Grand Central Station”. Our place of celebration, creativity, education, play, and family meals (and clutter, lol).
Having a regular family rhythm and structure is the main component of our “discipline” tactic. We have found that predictability and routine have created an atmosphere of trust and established boundaries. The kids know what to expect day in and day out (basically) and what is expected of them so there is much less room for “error”.
And yes, we have our days and struggles (in NO way am I saying we are perfect and have it all together). I have just found in my mothering years, that creating a somewhat predictable family rhythm can really eliminate a lot of problems before they begin.