His love language must be quality time, because the four-year-old lives for meals around our kitchen table. He thrives at dinner time!
Perhaps that makes it sound as if I am skilled in the culinary arts department. Let’s clear that up right away. I enjoy cooking but I’m more of a B student when it comes to cooking class. You win some, you lose some…yep. That’s the theme of Courtney’s kitchen. I have some winner recipes that consistently prove to be crowd-pleasers and then (um…healthy friends, you’ll want to skim past this line) other nights I serve up a delicious, home-cooked, (ahem) frozen pizza. I’m good with that, actually. As long as I can serve up some (but not all) crowd pleasers, kitchen-life is good!
Dinner in our home isn’t just about the food although the baby would probably beg to differ. (Little man loves his food and is very proud of his round, toddler belly.) For the other four of us, dinner is so much more! The dinner table has become the consistent, daily place where our family connects with our whole hearts. If your dinner table isn’t that place for your family just yet, keep reading! (I’ve come a long way myself.)
It hasn’t always been our family bonding place. We were often in a rush to get to activities without really savoring that time together. (Side note: we still rush through a meal at least once a week.) However, God changed my heart. This past summer I read the book that I could relate to more than any other book I’ve had the pleasure of reading. (Seriously friends, this book will change you in unexpected and wonderful ways!) In Rhinestone Jesus, brilliant author, Kristen Welch has an entire chapter based on valuing family time and specifically talks about the way family dinners have changed her family’s lives. Do read it! It will not disappoint. Family dinners at our house have been deeply impacted, since I finished that book this past summer. We’ve made meaningful conversation a larger priority at meal time and we’ve become intentional about scheduling our family dinners into our days. We have a long way to go before I can say that we have mastered this area of family life but I can say that we have found our niche! Insert what we refer to as, “Family Dinner Games.”
The moment our family has said, “Amen,” and grabbed our forks to begin eating, our four-year-old squeals, “Let’s play a dinner game!” Ah, dinner games. Dinner games have become the richest part of meal time conversations. You’ve probably read other ideas for sparking meaningful dialogue with older children at the supper table, but most of the resources I found were on a higher-level that my littles weren’t yet able to relate. We began by asking our children silly questions at the table.
“Would you rather be a porcupine or an ostrich?”
“Would you rather visit the moon or Grandpa’s farm?” (This is actually a legit question at our house. My kids love the farm.)
“If you could be any kind of sea creature, what would you be?”
These silly questions led to deeper questions that have shown us more of each child’s individual heart.
“Who is your favorite Bible hero?”
“Which family vacation (that we have taken) would you like to take again?”
“Name the best quality about each person at this table.”
Then the dinner games turned into other activities that have brought exceptional hours of laughter to our mediocre dinner hours. Our children have acted out Bible stories together, which does require briefly leaving the table, but they do return. We have also learned to play the beloved “Quiet Mouse” game, which is not only a good skill for little boys to practice but has been wonderful for those moments when dinner games gave way to excessive silliness that momentarily distracted from the meal. Sometimes, we may or may not have a round of “Quiet Mouse” simply because the noise level became overwhelming for the parents. You know…that may have happened.
Better than dinner games, we have progressed to sharing our likes and dislikes with each other. We play the “Favorites Game.” This game undoubtedly always, always, always begins with Mr. Four loudly announcing, “Okay! Let’s see!!! Hmmm…what is your favorite animal?” He asks the same question. Every. Single. Day. The boys change their answers each time, of course…but friends, I just really love giraffes, flamingos, and zebras. I rotate those, but I refuse to budge. The Kindergartener usually chimes in on my turn and says, “Her favorite animals are still the giraffe and the flamingo. Right, mom?” That boy gets me.
Most recently, we’ve been reading a book as a family around the table. Each night, minus the crazy, busy ones, our family has enjoyed reading the book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by my other favorite author, Ann Voskamp, whose prose are the equivalent to therapy for my soul. Lean in closely, because this is hard to admit on January 14th. I’m forcing myself to be authentic with you in this moment. (Deep breath.) Friends, we aren’t quite through our Advent book yet. We’re almost there and still pressing on but IT’S JANUARY 14TH!!!! Yep. We ate a few too many rushed meals in December, leaving zero time to read or barely swallow our green beans. Really, guys. December is crazy, busy in the Stanford home because my husband directs concerts and church cantatas for a living. The sad part is that I was making a very intentional effort to slow down this December, and I think this was actually an improvement of sorts. Bottom line: it looks like the book will be complete in a few days and let me tell you, this book is worth every, single minute of your time as a family! Nothing else could have prepared our hearts for Christmas in a more meaningful way. Make plans to buy this book before December 1, 2015. We have also been completing a “Jesse Tree” to accompany our Advent book. We simply used a small, pencil tree that we already owned and printed the ornaments onto white card stock from Ann’s website. You can get the printable, free Jesse Tree ornaments here, but I will make sure to repeat this idea and its resources before Christmas rolls around again!
Lastly, we sometimes sing at the dinner table. Sorry, Mom and Dad. I’m breaking a big rule from my childhood with this one. As a musical (and not so…soft spoken) little girl, one of my most frequently enforced rules was, “No singing at the dinner table.” I don’t blame them. My brother and I are very outgoing. The rule was a necessity. I’m sure my parents had to buckle down about that one to keep their sanity, but I guess that rule didn’t stick. Ha! We sing together around our table frequently. We sing hymns, favorite kids’ songs, and lots of praise and worship together. That gets noisy too, but it is music to my ears!
Our family has grown from the sharing of laughter, our hearts, and our favorites. Dinner games have worked for us because it puts our minds in the practice of intentionally fellowshipping with one another. The dinner table has become more exciting! The lines of communication have opened. Good habits are forming for our family life that will be vital as our precious boys grow into teenagers. Most, but not all, of our meals are less rushed because we are beginning to place value on togetherness.
Now, I am not an expert. That isn’t ever the vibe I want to give in this little blog. I don’t get it all right. Somedays I wonder if I’ve done anything right at all, but quality time is a strong suit in the Stanford home. Dinner games are working for us. Therefore, I share these ideas in hopes that someone else, perhaps with three littles around their very own kitchen table, will be inspired and encouraged to create an atmosphere of communication and quality time in the midst of a dinner hour that can often become a hectic routine. May your time around the table blossom into a rich time of memory-making and may your home be filled with laughter and joy as your hearts are focused on loving one another and bringing glory to Him.
From my “Frat House” to yours,