It’s no secret that today’s families are busier than ever. With both parents working in the majority of two-parent households on top of children being in school and attending extracurricular activities, finding family time — even just a sit-down dinner together — can seem impossible.
That’s why there’s a national effort to make those family dinners happen on Sept. 27, also known as Family Day.
Family Day is a national campaign to promote family dinners as a way to connect with children and reduce youth substance abuse and other risky behaviors. After all, children whose families eat together have been found less likely to smoke, drink and use illegal drugs, not to mention have better family relationships than those who don’t have sit-down family meals every night.
But, when you’re so busy with your and your child’s schedule, how do you find the time to come together as a family unit? While it may be hard at first, with time and effort, you and your family can fall into a routine of sitting down for dinner together, sharing your stories from the day and becoming a more cohesive family unit.
Here are some tips to get started:
1. Plan ahead.
One of the reasons it’s so difficult for families to have dinner together is because of jam-packed schedules. However, when you want to make family dinner a priority, include it as a non-negotiable part of your schedule. For example, if you decide to have family dinners every Sunday at 6:30, any other activities that fall during that time must be rescheduled or missed. By planning out your family schedule each week, you can find a time when you all can sit down together to eat.
2. Invest in slow-cooker and quickly prepared meals.
It’s hard after a long day of work to right away get to work cooking an expansive meal, especially if you have a bigger family. That’s why it’s important to start slow; find meals that will take only a half hour to make with minimal ingredients, or find recipes that can sit in a slow-cooker all day while you’re at work and be ready when you come home. The easier that you make your family dinner, the more likely you will be to follow through with it.
3. Share responsibility.
Even though modern families are bucking traditional gender roles, there can be an unstated expectation that one member of the family does all of the cooking, every time. This can quickly lead to resentment, which is the last thing you want to associate with your family meal time. Set another schedule that allows parents and children to both play a role in the cooking process, as well as cleaning up and setting the table, to make it fun and to divvy up the responsibility.
4. Set a “no electronics rule.”
Family dinners should be about connecting with each other in person — not others through an electronic screen. Both children and parents should remove their phones from the table and make a pledge not to answer or check the phone if they receive a call or text. Whatever it is, it can wait.
If you have a child who can’t stand not having some kind of stimulation, incorporate tabletop game like TableTopics conversation starters to make family dinners just as much fun as the newest version of Candy Crush.
5. Avoid negative discussions.
Perhaps one of the most important parts of a family dinner is to cultivate positive, fun conversations that bring your family together. Make this an opportunity for everyone to talk about their favorite thing that happened that day, what they’re looking forward to tomorrow and anything else that they want to share. It can also be an opportunity for important (positive) family discussions — for example, talking to an adopted child about their adoption story.
However, avoid any conversations that bring up negative emotions. The dinner table is not the place to talk about chores, punishment or any other less-than-fun activities. If a child or parent starts complaining about something at the dinner table, redirect the conversation. Tell them you’d be happy to listen to their thoughts after dinner is finished and the table is cleared.
Creating a family dinner tradition can be difficult at first, but it’s one that provides so many benefits for all members of the family. That’s why it’s highly recommended for families to eat four or more meals together each week to promote bonding and family relationships — especially important for foster care and older adoptees who want to feel safe and accepted in their forever home.
For more tips on how to start a family dinner tradition, check out the Family Day website and take the Family Day Pledge.