This is a guest post by my husband, Jason Strauss. He's also a blogger over at Realizing Fatherhood, but he spends most of his days teaching music and creating in his wood shop. I hope you enjoy this dad's take on family meals.
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There are two primary ingredients to every family meal: “time” and “together.” If either of these are left out, the meal would cease to be a family meal.
You might have noticed that I left out something very obvious - food. But what if Time and Together could nourish a family as food can nourish a body?
As with food, the question is, what kind of Time and Together? If the absence of Time and Together can do as much damage as a lack of food, the kind of Time and Together has as much impact on the family as the kind of food you put into your body. A good balance of nutrients is imperative.
Here's where I must confess: my balance of food nutrients is horrible. My wife has been making some wonderfully balanced crockpot meals recently, which helps me, but I generally tend to choose junk. Worse, I pass on my tendencies to my kids, especially my chip-loving daughter, whose snack consists of a bowl of chips over a bowl of oranges or cucumber slices or even a granola bar.
While I can see how a good balance of nutrients is imperative, sometimes I don’t treat it as such. This has been my attitude about what I’m calling a Family Meal as well. I’ve realized that as a family, we need a balance of healthy Time and Together. This is because so much of our time is spent doing activities that either aren’t face to face (i.e. different rooms or different places), or where we are in the same room, but doing our own thing.
Sometimes doing your own thing is necessary, but there’s something different about doing things as a family that require direct interaction. With this in mind, I’ve been interested in re-thinking the idea of a Family Meal.
My dad grew up in a family that tended to be completely silent during a meal. Others grow up in more volatile situations where eating together is generally avoided. Some try and accommodate by going out to eat as a family on a regular basis.
Together Doesn't Always Mean Together
I have to comment about this, however, because I happen to work at a restaurant as a server. I see all types of families and friends and how they eat together. This is fascinating to me because many times, even if families are together, there is still distance...huge emotional distance. There is no Together. They are spending time together, but there is no Togetherness. One time, a woman walked in the restaurant with her phone on her ear. I’m not sure if she was their mom, but the two boys with her had an iPad they played with the whole time. She walked in, ordered, ate, paid, and left without hanging up the phone. The boys, no older than 10, ate with their iPad (yeah, I’m sure they smeared it a little).
Were they together? Yes. Were they really Together? No. Did they spend actual time together? Yes. Was it healthy time? Not so much.
So a Family Meal should include enough time to be quality. It should be spent doing something that requires healthy, direct interaction. When you think about it, this really can be done without food.
So what is the Meal? That’s just it - the Family Meal is Time and Together, nourishing to the soul of the family. As a family, if you “feed” on quality direct interaction I've seen our family atrophy when there has been a lack of this food, and as I become more aware of this problem, I am increasingly interested in having Family Meals.
But wait, how do you have a Family Meal without food? Maybe the answer is obvious: plan times to directly interact with your family.
Each time your family feeds on Time and Together, the soul of the family is nourished, just as the body is nourished with balanced physical food. And just as your body has a sense of hunger, your family has a sense of hunger - for Time and Together. So plan times to directly interact.
Here’s how we do it.
Since we have noticed the difference between healthy Time and just time, and since we have seen the effects of being really Together versus just in the same room, we have our direct interaction in the morning.
A Family Meal in the Morning
It can be called by many names (we call it “morning time”), but the name is less important than the decision to “feed” on Time and Together. In the mornings, we read out of a book called Two Spies on a Rooftop, pray, and watch a clean, world news called CNN Student news. The Two Spies book is a collection of children’s church sermons directly out of scripture. It’s very well written by the author, who wrote them for children in the same order scripture is written without skipping any major pieces. I usually read the story and then we talk about it, drawing out its truths as best we can. Then we pray about those things, as well as other things that are on our heart, and we’re done.
Putting our family meals at the beginning of the day guarantees that they happen. We all leave to get our work done for the day filled and content in our connections.
How about you? How does your family share a meal?