Mealtime together as a family should be a daily non-negotiable. It serves as the rallying point for conversation—for sharing information, encouragement, and laughter. It’s a fabulous family culture-building opportunity.
However, without a few guidelines, the family table can become nothing more than the distribution point for food. Family members coming and going as is convenient to them, quickly eating, then on their separate ways with little interaction.
While our kids were very young, we established three fundamentals for our mealtimes at the family table. We didn’t have a formal way of articulating them when our kids were at home; but once we had grandkids, Gail developed one of her sing-song phrases to teach these table rules. It’s simply…
Pray. Stay. Excuse-ay.
- Pray. To establish a regard for this time together, there should be an official start. In addition to giving thanks to God, prayer serves as formal starting point. Once called to the table, you wait until everyone has arrived. While waiting for others, there’s light conversation and you can practice table manners like putting your napkin in your lap. Since you can’t start eating until everyone is gathered, this promotes respect for others and working together as a team. Once everyone is seated, a family member leads in prayer. We always took turns—and holding hands as a family was our habit.
Stay. Once mealtime begins, the understanding should be that this is family time. You don’t get to eat quickly and leave when you want. It’s about taking time to be with each other and talk. It helps to instill others-mindedness. If you get done eating early, you stay to engage in the conversation. Make sure everyone gets a chance to share something notable about their day. Again, this is a good time to practice good manners: e.g., only one person talking at a time; listening to others; showing support by celebrating and encouraging; asking for food to be passed.
Excuse-ay. No one is allowed to leave the table unless first getting permission from a parent. Once everyone is just about finished eating and everyone has had a chance to talk, a family member may ask the head of the table to be excused. Once excused, each person takes his dishes to the sink.
All of this may seem overly formal to you. Yet, you’ll be amazed at how a little structure builds a peaceful, orderly routine. You won’t have to deal with kids getting up from the table and coming back at will. You’ll keep people from talking over others. You’ll reinforce good table manners, respect for others, and camaraderie as a family. Plus, everyone can share in mealtime clean up.
There’s plenty of room for other habits you incorporate into mealtime. But these provide an overall framework. If this isn’t your habit now, discuss this as a family at your next mealtime. The simple “pray, stay, excuse-ay” may make a huge difference in the tone and quality of your family table.
Question: What has helped you build greater conversation and camaraderie at your family table? Share your answer in the comments below.