My husband and I have very different schedules: he’s in fence construction, and I own a pilates studio in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. So coming together with our 5-year old son and 7-year-old daughter has become a cherished tradition.
When making meals, I try to involve my kids as much as possible. This helps them learn cooking skills, and generally creates a more relaxed environment. My son, in particular, loves to lend a hand—especially when it comes to cracking eggs and mixing batter for our family’s favorite pumpkin muffins.
We usually gather in the kitchen to eat dinner, with our dog Duncan at our feet. Duncan is a bloodhound mix and weighs about 130 pounds, which means he’s definitely a strong presence during meals. (Thank goodness he has decent manners!) We keep a dinner games box nearby, and crack it open whenever we’re in need of a fun mealtime activity. For example, beginning with the letter “A,” we’ll go around the table and try to name an animal whose named starts with each letter of the alphabet.
Even though the kids are young, we try to have meaningful conversations, too. After we say the blessing, I sometimes ask everyone to name three things they’re thankful for. I also encourage the kids to express feelings that’s aren’t necessarily positive. We might ask, “Was there something that made anyone feel upset today?” Hopefully, sharing these feelings will help our kids become familiar with expressing a wide range of emotions, and help them feel comfortable coming to us with dilemmas as they grow older.
Recently, for example, we lost Duncan’s sister Sylvie, who was also a bloodhound mix. It felt strange to be eating in the kitchen without both her and Duncan, and yet…coming together in that space gave us the chance to reflect on our feelings. This was the first time the kids had encountered death, and they naturally had a lot of questions about whether Sylvie was in Heaven. Dinner gave us a peaceful moment to talk about those bigger issues—to reassure the children, and let them know it was okay to be sad.
When my family is together at the table, it truly represents something special to us. It’s like when we’re riding in the car, I tell my kids, “Yes, it’s fun that we’re going to the beach, but what really matters is that we’re together, enjoying each other’s company.” It’s the same with dinner. Coming together is a symbol of our love and commitment to each other. And that’s something I want my family to hold onto, no matter how busy our lives become.