How We Are Transforming Family Dinners

I’m absolutely the mom who decides where we sit for dinner based on whether it’s worth risking the dining room rug. If the mess potential is too high, the kitchen bar it is. Lower mess potential? Well, then we are more likely to gather around an actual table. 

But, who am I kidding? I’ve spent many of the dinners of my almost-eight-years of parenthood just trying to survive, counting “dinner” actually happening - with real food for us to eat - as the greatest win. Long days, crazy schedules, and just straight up fatigue can put us in the place of dinner survival - this is what frozen pizza dreams are made of! 

Celebrating our dear friend’s “Cancer Free” report - you can probably guess the HIGHS from this dinner!

Celebrating our dear friend’s “Cancer Free” report - you can probably guess the HIGHS from this dinner!

We’ve always prioritized eating dinner together. Even though it logistically cannot happen every night due to work schedules, we’ve made a point to eat together as a family most nights during the week. Looking back, every now and then, the salt and pepper shakers would align just right and we’d have a dinner full of smiles and laughter and great conversation rather than temper tantrums or flying peas (we have two daughters - ages 7 and 3). Many dinners felt like a chore that needed to be completed as soon as possible: just get it done and move on to the next thing.

I’m not sure exactly what jarred my attention last year. Maybe it was Abigail suddenly seeming so grown up at age 7. Maybe it was reflecting on all the years I’ve spent working with at-risk teenagers and seeing the detriment of poor communication between teens and their parents. Maybe it was the simple realization that if we don’t teach our children how to communicate with us now, we’re going to miss out on so many important questions and details of their lives. Whatever it was, I started realizing we were missing an opportunity at dinner. It’s often the only time we are sitting together as a family for an extended period of time without electronic devices or toys, so David and I started brainstorming ways to up our dinner game.

One simple activity has transformed everything about our family dinner experiences:

Highs & Lows. 

I’m not sure where I heard of this first, but, full disclosure, it didn’t originate with our family. It couldn’t be more easy: every person takes a turn sharing their “High” for the day (their favorite part of the day) and their “Low” for the day (their least favorite part - maybe something that was hard or made them sad or was just kind of “ugh”). We went through a less-than-enthusiastic phase at first - “Oh Mom! Do we have to do Highs and Lows?” To which I would over-enthusiastically respond, “Yes! We GET to do Highs and Lows!” Now they can’t wait! It’s almost like dinner has just become the excuse for Highs and Lows and they look forward to it with genuine excitement! 

I’ve learned so much about my family I would have missed out on because I don’t think the information would have come up any other way. It’s a level playing field for the diverse personalities in our family. Those who tend to be more outspoken and expressive get to be heard just as much as those who tend to be more quiet and reserved. We’ve heard about new friends, hurt feelings, fun science experiments, and all about new things that seem hard. Because David and I participate also, we get a special window into each other’s days, which often prompts a later discussion to hear more.  

The benefits are many, but here are 3 of my favorites:

  1. Intentional conversation drives connection. Dinner feels a lot less like a chore and more like family togetherness. 

  2. Our girls are learning critical thinking skills and to communicate feelings. This is less touchy-feely, but I love seeing these skills develop in their lives! They will serve them well in the long-run.

  3. Everyone practices listening. Good listening is a learned skill, one that requires practice for both children and adults! Good listening cultivates empathy and I so want my children to learn to celebrate others’ highs and feel others’ lows.

In case I’ve given the wrong impression, this isn’t just appropriate for when kids are at the table. Try it with your friends or spouse. And, fair warning: if you stop by our house for dinner, someone WILL ask you for your “Highs and Lows”!

What about you? Do you have a favorite dinner conversation tradition or practice? If not, maybe you’d like to borrow this one! Join the conversation by commenting below!