January 26, 2011

The Family Table: More Than Just Wood and Screws?

Bringing the family together...what could be more important?  The people who I look up to most in my faith are my mother and the pastor who was at my church when I was growing up.  He was and is a wonderful spiritual mentor and teacher to many, and I call him a dear friend.  As a youth struggling with balancing my priorities and letting stress take over my life, he would always remind me, "There's three things that matter:  your relationship with God, who you love, and who loves you."  It's as simple as that.  Has my life been reflecting these priorities lately?  Um, that would be a big fat no.  That is why I am on this journey to become a more faithful child of God, a more loving wife, a better mom, a more caring friend, and a more humble servant to the people in this world.  Going along with that, one of the goals that I mentioned in my last post is to bring my little family together by making family meals important in our home.  For the past few weeks, starting about one week before I started this blog, my family of three started sitting down together at the kitchen table to eat dinner.  What has transpired in the last few short weeks has amazed me.

Before starting on this journey, I'm embarrassed to say that I hardly ever sat down with my two and a half year old to eat.  While he was eating breakfast, he would sit in his high chair watching a t.v. show we had DVR-ed off of Nick Jr. or PBS Kids, and I would be working in the kitchen or sipping my coffee on the couch near the kitchen.  When he would finish, I would clean him up, let him down to play with his toys, fix my own breakfast, and then sit down in the living room to eat so that I could be in the same room as him.  Lunch looked similar.  He would eat his lunch, and I would work in the kitchen or the adjoining laundry room, or I would sit on the couch.  After I would put him down for a nap, I would eat my own lunch.  Dinner would be more of the same.  While he ate, I would either be cooking a separate dinner for my husband and I, I would be working in the kitchen, or I would be relaxing on the couch.  Another t.v. show would be on for him while he ate.  Once he went to bed, my husband and I would then sit down to eat our dinner--usually in front of the t.v. in the living room.  Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that I think watching t.v is bad.  The shows that my son likes are educational, fun, and age-appropriate.  Watching t.v. with my husband is something that we love to do together once our son goes to bed.  We pause our shows and talk with one another, laugh, etc.  We don't just sit starring at the television., isolated from one another.  It's something we do with one another.  But, involving t.v. during mealtimes was a mistake for us.  It may work for other families, but for our particular family, it was making matters worse.  The t.v. on made each meal last 45 minutes to an hour, which meant that my son was watching at least three hours of t.v. a day--waaaaaaaaaay to much for his little impressionable, developing brain.  My son's mischievous behavior during meal times was escalating each week as well.  Throwing his milk cup on the floor, putting food on the table, dropping food on the floor on purpose, using his outside voice, being obstinate and strong-willed, and refusing to eat certain foods became commonplace.  I dreaded mealtimes because I knew it would be a battle each time.

In November we moved our son from the high chair to a booster seat at the kitchen table, in which he cannot see the t.v. at all.  This helped some, but not nearly enough.  In the past few weeks, however, we have gone a step further.  Well, it's actually more than a step.  It has been more like a leap forward.  The one place in the house that was designed to bring people together around it, we constantly kept buried.  We changed that.  The kitchen table is no longer a place to store the ever-increasing stack of unopened mail, my purse, our keys, my son's backpack, our jackets, and just stuff.  It now stays clean.  It serves one purpose, and one purpose only--a place to eat.  By using our family table as a place to store clutter, what were we saying about us as a family? What was that telling our son about how we view each other and about the importance of spending time with the people you love the most?

The table being a place where people come together is not a modern-day concept.  Huge, important, life-altering things happened at a table over 2,000 years ago.  Jesus spent his last night with his best friends in the entire world around a table.  He knew his fate.  He knew this would be the last night he would have to spend with this dear family of friends as a man on this earth.  He knew he was about to be betrayed and handed over to die an excruciating, drawn-out, tortuous death.  And where did he choose to spend the precious little time he had left with the people who had become like a family to him?  You guessed it--around a table.  He shared a meal with them celebrating the Passover, and during this meal around the table, he instituted Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper for the first time that night.  Since that sacred night, the table has been a powerful symbol in the Christian faith.  The communion table has been a place where bodies of believers, families of Christ, brothers and sisters in the faith, have come together as communities to break bread together, collectively remembering what Christ has done for us.  So, why treat our family table as just a simple piece of stained wood with four legs attached to it with screws?  It could be so much more than that.  If we let it, what goes on at the family table could be huge, important, and life-altering, too.

So, that's what we have done:  we have made the family table an important place in our home, something much more than just a table.  It's become a place to come together as a family, to talk with one another, to laugh with one another, to pray with one another, to share a meal together, and to listen to one another.  It's become a place where we show each other that we value one another more than cleaning the kitchen, more than the television, more than checking facebook and email on our cell phones, more than cooking.  It's a place where we show each other that we matter.  It's become a symbol for family.  Now when my son eats breakfast, I sit down at the table with him with the t.v. off (or tuned to a music station), and I eat breakfast with him. I do the same for lunch.  I sit down with him--no t.v., no cell phone, no doing other stuff around the house.  Even if I occasionally wait to eat lunch once he is napping, I still sit down and drink something at the table with him, and I stay at the table as if I were eating.  For dinner, I have been cooking earlier in the day so that the meal I make for my husband and I can be ready by my son's dinner time around 6:30 p.m.  No more fixing two different meals.  Our son is eating what I make for the family as a whole.  Has this changed mealtimes for us?  Yes!  Are mealtimes still a battle?  No!  We have so much fun sitting together as a family.  We're finding out that our little two year old is a very funny kid, and he really enjoys making us laugh with his little sense of humor.  I'm finding that the time of day in which I laugh the most is at our family dinner time.  My son's meal time behavior, for the most part (he still is two and a half after all), has been pleasant, calm, joyful, and enjoyable.  He is even trying new foods more willingly!  He has tried everything that I have cooked in the last three weeks, and has liked much of it.  I think now he feels like his mommy and daddy are making time for him.  We're showing him that family matters.  There's no need for him to throw his milk, to scream, or to do any of those things that made me feel like I was about to lose it.  He gets plenty of positive attention, and he even has positive attention to dish out to us.  My husband and I also know so much more about each other's days because we are setting special time apart out of our busy lives to just focus on one another.  I've been amazed at what the family table has done for us.  I have to say that it is quickly becoming my favorite place in our home.  Thank God for our family table.


  1. beautiful, jenni! what an interesting idea, that he doesn't have to throw cups and make messes any more for dinner-time attention. i remember going through that with P, i think i ate separately from him a lot when he was littler, too.

    go trinka table!

  2. Jenni, this is such a wonderful blog. Thank you for posting your mom experiences.

  3. This brought tears to my eyes! What an amazing blog and so much truth. How wonderful to share that special time together. Thanks for sharing with all of us!

  4. This is very cool, Jenni. I am really enjoying reading your blog, and it is inspiring me as well. Looking at your recipes made me smile because I remember you making cheese dip for us when we were kids (while watching The Peanut Butter Solution). So really, that dip has been in the works for well over 14 years! :)