Family Dinners & the importance of table conversation

Apr 18, 2011Family Uncaged

This is an excerpt from 150 Quick Questions to Get Your Kids Talking about how the book came about.

My family of five spends evenings around the dinner table examining our days. We shared one high and one low, although often those highs and lows turned into two or three of each. I loved learning about my children’s hearts and the feel of their days as we shared a meal together.

It wasn’t until I started conducting research for one of my parenting books that I discovered we practiced the art of examen—an ancient spiritual practice best done at the end of the day. Ivy Beckwith, author of Postmodern Children’s Ministry, expands the idea: “Participants talk together about those things that happened during the day that sapped their zeal and energy, also known as desolations. Then they talk about those things that happened during the day that encouraged them or gave them energy, also known as consolations. At the end of the time we talk to God about all these things, bringing God into the very center of the important events of our lives.”[i]

So we shared our consolations and desolations. We sifted. We shared our trials and triumphs. But as we did this, a strange staleness crept into our ritual. Like a bland meal of boiled potatoes and tasteless chicken, our conversation lacked spice. On a long drive from Colorado to Texas after a terrific family vacation, I had a sudden inspiration. I would create questions that we could answer, one each night—in addition to our high/low tradition. Thinking of my kids, I typed questions, reveling in each one, anticipating how each child would respond. When we returned home, I formatted the questions, cut them into squares, and placed them in a box in the center of our table. Each night the kids took turns pulling out a question.

The result?

No more spicelessness.

Our table became a lively place of bantering, of exchanging ideas, dreams, and regrets. The questions probed into areas I hadn’t expected. My kids learned about their parents. We learned about our kids—all in a nonthreatening, easygoing way.

Why is conversation like this so important? Why do parents need to pay attention to their kids’ hearts and seek to engage them?

In the midst of a rapidly changing culture that embraces the values of community and authenticity, I’ve realized that some of the top-down parenting methods didn’t prepare my children to step outside our front door. It wouldn’t work for me to be the only one talking. Simply telling my children what to believe or how to act did not necessarily help them navigate the real world. Welcoming my children’s thoughts through questioning and listening not only validates their worth, but also reflects the way Jesus prepared His disciples for their journey. And leaving our homes is the journey we hope all our kids will eventually take.

[i] Beckwith, Ivy. Postmodern Children’s Ministry: Ministry to Children in the 21st Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004, page 136.)