Growing up, my mom insisted that we have family dinners every night. We were lucky. She was a working mom who stayed at home (a little play on the term stay-at-home mom, because she was not just a mom, she worked her ASS off), and my dad was his own boss. Therefore, my family ate together almost every night. During dinner, we had a few rules (instituted by mom, of course).

  1. No elbows on the table.
  2. No chewing like a cow. Keep your mouth closed.
  3. No reading at the table.

That last one was important. We were always encouraged to talk about our day, laugh about funny things, and generally share whatever might be on our minds. Mom was a real stickler about everyone contributing to the conversation. I remember more than one occasion where my dad begrudgingly had to back away from the sports page and talk to us little rug rats. Regardless of what a pain we thought it was all of those years, those dinner conversations unknowingly created the foundation for strong and lasting bonds between all of us. I am so grateful for every dinner conversation, even though I can’t remember the details of most of them.

Anyway, I was reminded of my mom’s list of dinner rules the other day.

L and I sat down to eat. We were chatting about something or other. Then he was checking his phone for sports scores. I checked a blog on my phone. The whole scene consisted of me in my world, and him in his world. Later, I reflected on this and realized that we do it a lot. Whether the excuse is that we need to read something important on our phones or we are glued to the television (shameful, I know), we have become so easily distracted. Sometimes we don’t even eat together. That can’t really be helped (due to work schedules), but we can always try to do better.

I don’t think every meal needs to be filled with lively conversation. For example, breakfast is a quiet meal. Normally, people are still waking up, reading the paper, and/or running out the door. But dinner is different. It’s the end of the day. We should have things to say to each other.

I remember years ago, L and I spent a weekend in San Diego. We were eating dinner at a nice restaurant. I spotted an older couple eating in complete silence. I tried not to stare, but I was curious. Did they always eat in silence? Were they in a fight? Or had they just run out of amusing things to say to each other? We’ll never know.

All I know is that I don’t want to be that couple…ever. So for now, I’m gonna be that wife who tells her husband to put his damn phone down while we eat. And I need to pay him the same courtesy.

June 24, 2010

thelessthandomesticgoddess

13 Comments

  1. Reply

    sharonlei

    June 23, 2010

    Great post Carly. I never want to be that old couple either. But then again… I don't think I could ever run out of things to say to my hubby. I'm sure sometimes he wishes I'd stop talking to just a little bit.. ha ha. 🙂

    xx Love & Aloha

  2. Reply

    Geek in Heels

    June 23, 2010

    While I think that a sit-down dinner free of distractions is important for many families, I also think that it doesn't work for everyone. For example, my husband and I HARDLY ever eat at the table (we usually eat in the living room off the coffee table) and while I'm sure this will make many people cringe, we usually have the TV on and/or are checking our computers.

    But that's what works for us. Our liveliest conversations are when we are in the car, just sitting on the couch, or lying in bed together, not during meal times. We don't feel the need to make dinner a formal affair every night, and we're perfectly fine with that.

  3. Reply

    Mrs. Hot Cocoa

    June 23, 2010

    I hear you. I love dinner at the dinner table w/ my husband. Even though he's a med resident and comes home at the wierdest hours, we always make a point of having dinner together no matter the hour. Lately, though, he's been so exhausted we've just been eating on the couch in front of the TV, and I really miss our actual dinner table convos.

    As for the elderly couple, I wonder if it's a cultural thing. In Hong Kong, I noticed people eating silently all the time. In fact, my whole family often gathers around the dinner table and eats silently. Just not that into conversations.

  4. Reply

    Chicken Wing

    June 23, 2010

    Great post, Carly! I think you were lucky to have such a strong family model in place while you were young! That's going to give you all the tools you need to institute that model today! I think this is so important for relationships and families!!! Well done, you!

  5. Reply

    Notes from the Fatty File

    June 23, 2010

    My family grew up eating dinner together almost every night, too. Sometimes the news would be on in the background but we were mostly free of distraction and therefore forced to talk to each other. Because it's what I grew up with, I insist on distraction-free dinner with my husand every night because that is pretty much the only time we have quiet time together.

    As Geek in Heels said, though, very family works differently. My husband's family never ate dinner together; dinner was always cooked and homemade but the parents ate separately from the kids. My father in law also apparently grew up in a house where his dad didn't allow anyone to talk during mealtime. That doesn't mean my husband's family isn't close or anything, though; they did other family bonding things that my family did not.

  6. Reply

    -J.Darling

    June 23, 2010

    Hm. I never thought of older couples who sit quietly that way before. Maybe that's true. Maybe I'm just a die hard romantic, but I thought that, through all their years together they've finally discovered the connection that can be felt through a comfortable silence. I've always found it reassuring to not feel the need to explain everything all the time. I enjoy lively conversation and the occasional debate, but there's something special to being quiet together, in my mind anyway. 🙂

    Maybe the key to effective communication isn't in what you say, but how you say it? Afterall, there are those people who talk all the time, but end up saying very little – and then there are those that speak very little, but say volumes with those few well chosen words.

    I'm a BIG fan of eating at the table! Of course, being the single gal I am, I'm totally guilty of reading at the table. 😉

  7. Reply

    Linda

    June 23, 2010

    We eat dinner in front of our computers with the tv on. We talk but we certainly aren't giving each other our complete attention. Once and while we'll turn off everything and lay on the couch and just be with each other. I love those moments.

  8. Reply

    Katie

    June 23, 2010

    we had that same rule growing up, and definitely have it now together. Dinner is a time for us to connect and talk. I love it that way!
    We keep the computers and phones away, and we don't even have a cable connection our tv so we can't get any channels, so there aren't distractions!
    Good for you for seeing this and making an effort to change! I think its really important for family life (even when your family is just the two of you for now!)

  9. Reply

    honey my heart

    June 23, 2010

    we had the same rules and were the same way growing up that when we are all at my parents' home for the holidays, it is still the same. i love it. i've also noticed that hubs and i always eat in front of the tv when we're at home, sometimes even checking twitter and facebook. it bugs me and i've tried to change it by making sure our phones are away for the meal. we're working on the tv. i do love being able to eat out, i feel like there are less distractions and more conversation. and i know i'm gonna make sure those rules are in place when i have a family 🙂

  10. Reply

    thelessthandomesticgoddess

    June 23, 2010

    @Geek in Heels: I think you definitely need to figure out what works for you. Every couple and family is different. This post is just my perspective on how I grew up and a tradition I hope to keep alive for my family. I have never thought dinner needed to be a formal affair either. Actually right now, L and I have a pretty sad excuse for a "dining" table. We mostly eat at our coffee table and are fine with it. Although I would like a breakfast table.
    @J. Darling: It goes back to the whole idea that you have to do what works for you. What looks sad and lonely from the outside, might work perfectly for the two people in the relationship. Or what looks happy from the outside, might be a totally abusive, negative relationship. You never know. But I do know that L and I chat a lot. Maybe that means we are talking a whole lot but not saying much? But it's just how our relationship works.
    @Mrs. Hot Cocoa: I do think culture has a lot to do with it! L and his family have been known to eat silent dinners…except during the holidays when the extended family gets together. They are super LOUD, laugh a lot, and have great conversation 🙂 But this particular older couple I was referring to in the post looked to be American, and I'll add, quite disinterested in each other. Haha!

  11. Reply

    Mo

    June 24, 2010

    We both grew up in households where dinner was at the dining table every night, but we've bucked that by eating in front of Netflix. TV shows are like bonding time for us, but the boy does have a no phone rule. In fact my cell rang the other day and I went to pick it up and he said "DINNER! DINNER! 30 ROCK! CALL THEM BACK!"

  12. Reply

    Kim

    June 24, 2010

    My family didn't have dinner together every night, but I wish we did. Now I make a point of making dinner at the table an evening ritual for my husband and I. I love it, and so does he. We catch up on our day and enjoy focusing on one another for awhile. Every couple of weeks we'll order something in and eat it in front of the tv. It is a special treat, but I'd really miss your meal-time talks if we did that every night.

  13. Reply

    bookishbella

    June 24, 2010

    I'm working on this one! I grew up in a family that put a big value on having dinner together. Every night we had home-cooked food (more from cheapness than health reasons) and sat at the dinner table together, and I think that forced family time was wonderful for us. My husband and I both got in the habit of eating on the couch in front of the TV during our years of living alone, so now I'm on a mission to get us eating regularly at the dinner table and TALKING instead of watching. I started with special occasion meals, and now I'm sneaking in table meals here and there with the hopes that one day (at least by the time we have kids) we'll be at the table every evening. We have much better conversation time, we enjoy our food more, and if I'm the one who cooked the meal, I feel like it's more special and appreciated.

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