When I think back to my childhood, some of the fondest memories I have revolved around our kitchen table and chairs set.
At the time, of course, I wouldn’t say that the kitchen table was that important – as a kid, it was just some furniture — but now that I have a family of my own, the importance of my family’s kitchen table and chairs set is much more apparent.
Some of my warmest memories happened when my family was gathered around the kitchen table and chairs set for a warm meal. Mom had either prepared a delicious dinner in the crockpot that made the entire house smell fantastic, or she was mixing up Hamburger Helper® on the stove and popping some ready-made rolls out of the tube to bake in the oven.
We kids often were recruited to either rip lettuce for the salad or set the silverware, plates and drinks on the table. Everyone had a job; everyone was expected to help out (though I regretfully admit that I didn’t always have a great attitude about helping).
Usually it was after six o’clock or even seven o’clock before we sat down to eat, and by that time, just about anything tasted good! Can you relate?
But it isn’t even the food so much that I remember – it’s the time spent talking and laughing together as a family. We shared our successes (like getting a good grade on a test or project) and our struggles (like having a disagreement on the playground or between friends). It was a time to connect and regroup at the end of the day before beginning the next day.
I also remember putting puzzles together at the table with my siblings and playing with playdoh and clay. The kitchen table was the perfect place to do homework while mom was cooking dinner.
During the holidays, I remember the laughter and fun when my aunts, uncles and cousins would play card games at the table. The rivalry was real! The table was scattered with cards, drinks and holiday snacks. The laughter was deafening and the joy lingered long after everyone returned home.
And how can we forget the birthday parties around that kitchen table and chairs set?
I can still hear my family and friends singing. The table was covered in a birthday-themed table cloth, and at the center was the elaborate cake my mom had worked hard to make for me. Streamers and balloons decorated the kitchen, and I couldn’t wait to enjoy cake and ice cream and open my presents. And it all centered around that kitchen table.
If I’m honest, I’ll admit that I also remember the not-so-fun times around the table, but those memories aren’t as clear in my mind (thankfully). Overall, the memories I have revolve around family, fun and food – 3 of the most important words in our language and in our family!
And now that I’m a mother of four ranging from elementary school to college, the time around the dinner table is even more precious to me. With everyone’s schedules, we are juggling sports, after school activities, tutoring and church events, so gathering around the table altogether can be extremely tricky sometimes.
Honestly, if my family had their way, they’d rather eat in front of the television most days, so I feel like I have to protect mealtime around the table. The struggle is real!
So much bonding happens for family when gathering for a meal, and if I don’t prioritize it, it will slowly be pushed aside by the busyness of life. I don’t want my children to grow up without memories of family, food and fun around the table, so I’m in full “mama bear” mode, if you know what I mean. Maybe you can relate?
In order to get my family more on board with my connection mission, I try to make it fun.
Sometimes my husband will read a verse or famous quote for the family to discuss, or we may discuss a news event or tell a funny story of something that happened to us that day. No matter what you do, get the conversation going and be sure to ask open-ended questions rather than yes-no questions.
Another fun game is the Would You Rather game. Our kids love it. You ask a question to someone like, would you rather stick needles in your eyes or duct tape your mouth shut for a week?
Strange, right? Because you don’t want to pick either choice! But the kids just laugh and image what it would be like and why they’d prefer one option over the other. (Psst – don’t tell them – but this actually develops some pretty amazing reasoning skills, and they don’t have a clue that this is mentally challenging them in a positive way! Parents tricking their kids into learning, UNITE!)
One of our favorite activities is the high-low game in which each person around the table shares a good thing that happened and a not-so-good thing that happened to them that day. This gives everyone a chance to celebrate for the wins and support and encourage with the losses. It also helps the family become aware of difficulties or challenges that others are facing and to practice empathy. Families can brainstorm and problem-solve together, and parents can guide children through difficult situations. Everyone wins!
Connecting around the kitchen table and chairs set doesn’t just happen at mealtimes. Playing family games at the kitchen table is a great way to disconnect from technology and connect with each other in a tangible way. Kids learn all sorts of skills while playing games including waiting their turn, following rules, and learning to win or lose graciously, just to name a few. And if we’ll be honest, kids today are lacking many of these social and personal skills; more time around the table playing family games can only help develop these critical skills that they’ll need later in life so they can be successful.
It’s no secret that families who eat meals together on a regular basis are not only much more connected but they are also healthier and happier. There are plenty of studies and evidence to support the fact that when families eat together, they usually eat healthier too. And never mind the fact that families who eat a home-cooked meal around their dining table save lots of money and enjoy less stress too! Now that sounds like a plan to me!
With my oldest in college, it seems unreal that he could get married and become a parent himself in just a few years, but it’s true. (YIKES! Me? A grandma? …. Ummmmm, not quite ready for that yet, but someday would be nice!) Anyway, realizing this truth causes me to consider even more how I’m raising my kids because more than likely, they’ll raise their kids in similar ways to how they themselves were brought up. I want to inspire and equip them to connect with their families around the table for mealtimes and for fun so that they can enjoy meaningful connections with each other too. That’s a tradition – part of the heritage – that I want to pass down to them.
After all these years, I now realize that the family kitchen table and chairs set is much more than just furniture – it’s where much of my family’s life happens and where many of my children’s memories are being formed.
It’s where my kids learn to interact with each other, share their victories and challenges and learn valuable life skills. This compels me to keep our family time around the kitchen table almost sacred – is that too strong a word? – because the importance of what we do there – and who we become there – is so incredibly significant.