Susan and Rich Dineen, proud grandparents, caught our attention as the creators of a set of free downloadable conversation starters specifically designed for grandparents and grandchildren to use around the dinner table. Their “Just Ask” questions could be used as a fun extension to the hundreds of conversation starters posted here on The Family Dinner Project. We caught up with the Dineens during a family vacation and asked them to share some more insights from their dinner table!
Susan and Rich Dineen and grandchildren Paige (13), Ben (12), Curtis (10), McKenzie (7) and Joshua (5), of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Because they’re in a grandparent role rather than a daily parenting role with the children in their lives, Susan and Rich find it can be tricky to allow equal space at the dinner table for each child to contribute to the conversation. Eating together only on occasion means that it’s even more important for everyone to have a chance to connect meaningfully at the table, but not all members of the family might have the same comfort level with sharing during dinner conversation. Susan’s goal is to help all the grandchildren learn to take turns and share something when they’re all together.
The big challenge Susan and Rich encounter during their visits with the grandchildren is making dinner a time for meaningful conversation, not just a time to eat and run.
To help give everyone a chance to share meaningfully at dinnertime, the Dineens ask each of the children to share one special moment from their day, as well as a more difficult or challenging moment. (This popular strategy for getting kids to open up is similar to Rose and Thorn.) They expand upon the conversation by asking each child what they might do differently next time if faced with the same difficult situation, then allowing everyone else at the table to provide additional suggestions and encouragement.
The Dineens also use their special “Just Ask” conversation starters to help keep things flowing. Susan shares that she’s found her grandchildren love to ask questions, and she and Rich love to engage with them and share their experiences, so the questions help keep things fresh and entertaining.
Susan and Rich add that while their family dinners with their grandchildren are less frequent and therefore a bit different than the daily meals they shared when their own children were younger, they fondly recall one family ritual from those days that made the dinner table a special place to be. On Mondays, the Dineen family always had a candlelight dinner where the candle was passed from person to person as each family member named something they were thankful for. They would then spend the rest of the meal having a family meeting, where they discussed the week ahead and laid out expectations for every family member during the coming days.
Dineen family favorites are pizza, spaghetti and meatballs.
The Dineens say that the biggest message they can share with others about family dinners is a simple one: “Eating together is a great way to bond.”
The Best Part:
For Susan and Rich, their old candlelight ritual is reinvented with the grandchildren by opening each meal together with a prayer. During that time, everyone shares how they’ve been blessed that day — a highlight for Susan that’s made possible by taking the time to slow down and gather at the table together.
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