Several years ago, while my father was visiting my family from out of town, he seemed shocked when mealtime rolled around and he found only his plate sitting on the table. Knowing he liked to eat at exactly 6:00 p.m., I had prepared his dinner and had it ready for him.
“Where is everyone else eating?” he asked.
“We’ll grab a bite later,” I informed him. Noticing his confused look, I continued explaining, “With our hectic schedules, we just eat when we can.”
As I returned to the kitchen, he followed. “Don’t you sit down together and eat?” he asked.
“Seldom,” I responded as I tossed some dirty dishes in the sink.
“That is what’s wrong with our world today,” he replied as he poured himself a glass of tea. Shaking his head, he returned to the table. It was several years later before I realized the significance of that statement.
One might ask whether I, as a child, sat at the table with my family at mealtime. The answer of course is … absolutely! We not only ate dinner together, but more times than not we ate breakfast and lunch together also. I had eight siblings and both parents at home and when we sat down to a meal, it was definitely a remarkable sight. Probably some of my fondest childhood memories are of the family sitting together at mealtime sharing the day’s events, discussing current issues, and of course, Daddy telling us stories from his childhood. So why had things changed in my own lifetime? I really wasn’t sure, except that often I say “Our lifestyle is not the norm” and we are constantly on the run. In addition, I had never heard my children complain. In fact, they seemed to prefer sitting in front of the TV during mealtime. To argue the point further, they weren’t exactly eating alone. My husband and I were often sitting there watching TV with them. So, is there really an issue?
With four of our children grown and only three left at home, my husband and I decided to do Foster Care this past year. It seemed like a good thing to do, since we had the extra room and our County was really short-handed of Foster Homes. We were excited when we had three new additions to our family, three beautiful girls ages eleven, fourteen, and sixteen. It wasn’t long though until I realized that not every child had been raised to appreciate nice furniture, light-colored carpet, and had responsible “eating-in-the-living-room” manners. After having to purchase a steam-cleaner to clean the constant “accidents,” I made the decision to ban the children from eating or drinking in any room except the dining room.
The first order of business was having to clean off my beautiful inlaid dining room table, which I had purchased a couple of years earlier. When I first saw it, I knew it was made specifically for me! It was long and narrow and would seat eight people easily. Many times, I had envisioned us sitting around this table … the perfect family. However, it had turned into one of my many “problem areas”… piled to the ceiling with unopened mail and numerous other objects too numerous to name in this article. The only time this table was cleaned off was for “special occasions.” I spent an entire afternoon cleaning the table off and preparing it for the evening meal. Unbeknown to my family, we were fixing to make some changes.
Several of the family members noted the clean table and commented on how nice it looked. I just smiled inwardly and wondered how the family would react when I announced supper was served … on the table!
When supper was finally prepared, I called my youngest daughter and the eleven-year-old foster care daughter to the kitchen. “Set the table,” I instructed.
Their mouths fell open. “What?” they both asked.
“Placemats, first,” I added, as I pointed them in the direction of the china cabinet. I continued instructing the girls on how the table was to be set, then returned to the kitchen to find serving dishes for the food. Tonight the food would actually be placed on the table, not served off the cookstove in pans. I found myself actually enjoying this and a sense of pride flowed over me. One by one, the other members of my family entered the kitchen to inquire what the special occasion was. “This is how it’s going to be for now on,” I informed them.
With supper on the table, I assigned each child a specific seat and placed Dad at the head of the table, with me on his left. As we sat around the table, it was quiet and I noticed the children all looking at each other and I wondered if they were all in shock. I grabbed the opportunity and asked, “Daddy, will you say the blessing?” Taking my hand in his, he reached to his right, took the first child’s hand, and paused as he waited for the others to follow his lead.
According to a survey taken in 2004, only 20 percent of those asked actually sat down to eat together just once a week or less. Most children had meals alone in their bedrooms, watching TV or playing computer games while they ate. So is there really a problem? Are there really any benefits to families eating together at the table, besides keeping the living room furniture and carpets clean? Absolutely.
The first night my family sat down together around that inlaid table was the beginning of a new and shared experience that each of us now look forward to every day. Though I’m at home all the time, my children find it hard to find time to communicate with me. Being self-employed, I work in my home and spend many hours on the computer and on the telephone. I’m here… but not really. My children have discovered that at mealtime, they have my full attention. Our communication has improved, and the children have an increased sense of security and stability. The foster children have found a place in our family. The have assigned seats just like my children do. This is one time that they belong, they have a place to call their own. There is also a sense of family tradition and values. Behavior problems seem to be fewer and farther between. We talk about the day’s events, laugh together, and tell stories. Negative subjects are avoided at this time. The television is turned off, the telephone unplugged. The children ask to be dismissed from the table when finished eating, with each removing his dishes from the table. This is one time of the day when the chaos is gone and we enjoy each other.
I started towards my Bible tonight to see if I could find any reference in the Bible to support the importance of sitting together at mealtime, but stopped abruptly when I remembered the Lord’s Supper. Duh! I thought as I envisioned the painting by Leonardo da Vinci of the thirteen men seated around the table. Jesus Himself has shown the importance of sitting together with those He loved when sharing a meal. For my family, it’s back to the table.