Have you ever stopped to wonder if the shared meal is less about food and eating as it is about the time set aside (meaning sacred) for coming together? In this way, the shared meal sets us apart from the animals. Animals feed, eating whatever they find on their sorties, and as their appetite dictates. Humans, on the other hand, dine- a process of planned menu and shared dishes and, in families, companionship (com meaning with, pan meaning bread). When eating at home is degraded to each family member grabbing food whenever it suits them, we lose much of what it means to be both human and family.
For those with children still at home, you might, at this point, be tempted to say that although this all sounds great, it would never work in your family. Your table is messy and noisy, and people are distracted. Your mealtimes are more like boxing matches or a three-ring circus, with fights over food, over who sits where (or won’t stay seated at all), over who manipulates the conversation and hijacks attention. The hour is not settling but restless. I have a friend whose three children argued constantly over who got to sit in between both parents at their round table. With one more child than parent, it always turned out that at least two of the siblings had to sit next to one another each night without a parent on both sides. The poking wars, verbal as well as physical, were endless. I know of another family whose table was always in such constant motion that the mother began reading children’s adventure stories during the meal as a way to keep the children seated throughout the meal’s entirety.
Despite the chaos, it is good to remember that the table is probably the best place in the home for teaching children about respect, manners, and service and sensitivity to the needs of others. It is at the table we learn firsthand what it means to work for the common good. This helps fortify the notion that each child is indeed a member of the family, this tight little community called “us.” At the table a sense of belonging, of kinship is born and nurtured. Will there be times of conflict, of petulant teenage resentment, of childish behavior? Most certainly. Just remember, there will also be times of shared joy where drama and comedy play out around the table every night as food is shared. If you want to build family, share the table.
There are, of course, other barriers to regularly sharing meals at home. Often, children are so hungry when they get home from school they fill up on snacks then aren’t hungry for dinner. For some children with attention disorders, medication has begun to wear off toward evening making this a frustrating time for parent and child alike. What’s more, it is not unusual for a family with two or more children to have something scheduled for every night of the week. It is also typical for one adult in the family to bear the lion’s share of food-related acquisition and preparation; let’s face it, somebody has to be in charge of the food, a responsibility that is difficult to sustain in very busy families.
~ Julie A.P. Walton, Ph.D.
Are you NEW to Shared Table Blessings? WELCOME! I invite you to join a growing number of people interested in the importance of the shared meal amongst family, friends, and strangers. Each post is numbered that you may follow the book I have written about the Christian Practice of Shared Meals. For the best understanding, start reading posts in order, and send comments or questions my way using the LEAVE A COMMENT box found at the bottom of every post. ~JAPW
Families with children with attention disorders may experience evening mealtime challenges related to both behavior and medication side effects like appetite suppression and insomnia. When the last dose occurs at noon, a behavioral rebound effect (in particular hyperactivity) around late afternoon is probable, and if a subsequent medication dose is taken, appetite for the evening meal will be blunted, and the child more likely to have trouble sleeping at bedtime. Sometimes, a lower dose at 4:00 p.m. is helpful. In these cases, it is often advisable to delay the evening meal so that appetite is less negatively affected. Working closely with a pediatrician is highly recommended.