I first started the Family on Friday postings with a simple little suggestion about having table time without screens and calls. Gussie responded to said post with a reminder that not all families can find the time to come to the table. I responded with a post explaining the kind of busy life where taking the time to sit is nearly impossible, but consequentially more important. In spite of the very busy life I led, table time remained an integral part of my relationships and I followed with a post in that regard. In fact, I continue to practice table time with wifey, our bug, and often grandma, too. And we just don't really have the same schedule anymore...
So. What is table time? Is it like flight time? Hang time? Well, it sure is worth explaining. Allow me to start by paraphrasing a part of the book "Three Cups of Tea" about Greg Mortenson building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. As you can imagine, there are some challenges for an American to build anything, let alone secular schools in those two countries. During his early efforts, his host explained to him that he must make time for three cups of tea in order make progress. The first time they have tea, they are strangers, the second time, they are honored guests, and the third time they become family.
The more time you can spend sitting at a table with someone and really be there with them, the closer you get to that person. You don't have to drink tea, eat, or play a game. Those things certainly help. But, if you can just pull up a chair and talk for half an hour, more power to you. It should be said that there are good ways to have table time and bad ways.
Good ways (not every good way, but you'll get the idea):
- Ask specific, open ended questions (not answerable with one syllable) like "What happened with that diorama you've been working on?" or "What would you like to do this weekend?" or even "Why have you been so happy lately?"
- Listen to the whole response. Try for follow up questions before you get going on your diatribe.
- Steer the attitudes toward the positive. Nothing stirs up indigestion or shrinks an appetite better than negativity. If someone just can't seem to break away from the gripe, call them out on it. Then ask if they can hold off their bad mood for another hour.
- Keep the world off the table. Yes, it's bad. Everyone knows. So, chances are you're just preaching to the choir and they're tired of the sermon. See previous tip.
- You're not at work. Don't talk shop or give the office any free time at the table. I'm sure it's interesting, frustrating, and/or amusing that Harvey used two helical couplings on the trans-spherical drop module and really shot the torque on that puppy through the roof, but save it for another time. Really.
- Get all nostalgic on your peeps. Times may not be all that great and talking about the now could be a violation of the rules. Then find a time that can get you laughing. Go back to before the kids were born if you have to.
- If all else fails, talk in movie/Monty Python quotes. See how long you can keep a convo going using only the quotes you know.
- Complaining. About anything. Kids will remember and resent that. If all the parents do is spend the time at the table talking about how bad working is, what kind of attitude will the kids have toward finding work? If you don't like the food, find a constructive way to alter the meal plan. "You know what would go great with this chicken and rice? Lasagna!"
- Gag order. Eating in silence is a gateway torture.
- Eating is something every living organism needs to do on a daily basis to survive. Don't make eating a directive, punishment, contest, bargaining chip, political movement, spectacle, or personality assessment.
- The Table Time Mandate. Sure. Dinner might be at five-thirty every night. But, you have to account for reality. Table time won't be the same every night and trying to make it that way will diminish its appreciation. Take into account that there will be nights (or mornings) when there is something else to do. Allow that and plan as a family for the next meal/game time.