“How many times per week do you sit down with your family and eat a meal together?” I was sitting with my old school friend enjoying our coffees outside the grocery store. It was one of those rare bright sunny days, with not even a puff of breeze.
To be honest, after the marathon grocery run I had just completed, I just wanted to chill out and relax. However, it was a very good question, and it got me thinking. How often did we actually sit down together? I thought back to the shopping I had just done, and what I had just bought. How many of the groceries were to make a family meal? And how much was convenience food and snacks? I was a little embarrassed to admit that there were a fair few pizzas and ready meals packed away in my trunk.
It's all too easy to blame our busy schedules for our lack of quality family time, but there’s really no excuse for not carving out a half hour to spend together at the end of the day. I decided there and then that I would make more of an effort to spend at least 5 evening meals a week together as a family.
It got me thinking back to when I was young (it's not that long ago, I promise). We always sat down for dinner at 6pm sharp, no excuses. I remember dashing home from my friend’s house, on the minutes as usual, wondering what my mom had made for us. Would it be her famous meatloaf or her not-so-famous chicken pot pie?
Either way we ate it, no complaining. I think back now to all of us sitting round the dinner table, laughing and joking, recapping our days, good or bad, planning trips out and summer holidays, talking about the neighbor cat who was usually sitting on our backstep by now, waiting for scraps. They were happy days. I think about how much I learned about life during that half hour, and how my children were missing out on this very valuable time.
I bid my friend goodbye and thanked her; I'm not quite sure she understood what an effect her simple question had had on me.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy, given that my children were so used to diving into the fridge at the first belly rumble and disappearing off into their rooms with a handful of leftover pizza.
I decided to set some ground rules (for me as much as anyone else). First rule was takeout just 1 night a week, and we would rotate it, so everyone got a chance to choose what food and what night. That one was easy.
The second rule was that we would decide the night before what time dinner would be the next day, taking into account everyone’s schedules. This didn't work so well at first and one evening we didn't get to eat until 11pm as my daughter missed the last train back from town, but we soon ironed out the creases.
Thirdly, it was an open table, where we were allowed to talk about anything and everything we liked. Things were a little stilted at first, but once we got talking it was like we would never stop. There have been more than a few occasions when we’ve still been at the table, chatting, 2 hours later.
I think back now to that day, sitting outside the grocery store and my friend asking me that one simple question. How many times per week do you sit down with your family and eat a meal together? I am so grateful to her and I am thankful that I never left it too late. I have learnt so much from my children over the last months, their hopes and dreams, their ups and downs and all from simply taking a half hour from our days to spend time to sit and eat together.
Ask yourself the same question, I guarantee you will love the results.