Experts have been telling us for years that regular family dinners are one of the most effective ways for parents and children to reconnect and bond. Families who consistently sit down at the table together also reap many other benefits including healthier, smarter, more resilient kids.
But in many households—despite best intentions—the family dinner seems like an unattainable relic from another era—nice, but not likely to happen.
Maybe it’s time to set the bar a little lower, and focus on resurrecting another bygone tradition: the Sunday dinner.
As many parts of the country tentatively emerge from the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, extended family members are finally able to see each other again. Grandkids and grandparents are reuniting, as are aunts, uncles, and cousins. While coordinating regular weeknight sit-down meals within your own busy household might seem like a Herculean task, starting a weekly or biweekly Sunday dinner tradition with extended family is often easier than it sounds. And the benefits of getting everyone together last a lifetime.
We hear again and again how quickly time flies. The days, weeks, and seasons pass in a whirlwind of activity. Before we know it, years are slipping away, and with them the opportunity to create memories that can only be made in those fleeting moments that we take for granted.
The Sunday dinner is a chance to grab hold of those moments.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be complicated, and there are no rules. The meal doesn’t have to be gourmet, the attire doesn’t need to be formal, and the invitations don’t need to be engraved. It doesn’t even have to take place on Sunday or be dinner. A Tuesday lunch date could work just as well.
The point is simply to make time to share a meal, some conversation, and a little bit of ourselves.
As Anne Fischel, Ph.D. and founder of The Family Dinner Project points out in a piece for The Washington Post, “In most industrialized countries, families don’t farm together, play musical instruments or stitch quilts on the porch. So dinner is the most reliable way for families to connect and find out what’s going on with each other.”
And this applies to family members in older generations as well. It’s lovely to get together for holidays and special celebrations like birthdays, but those events tend to come with specific expectations and, often, a certain level of stress. Parents, kids, and grandkids sitting down for a regular old meal, on the other hand, makes for a much more relaxed setting. And when you share meals on a regular basis, you create a space in which conversations can take root and thrive.
If you are fortunate enough to have family close by, the Sunday dinner is a wonderful way to bring everyone even closer. And if your closest family is too far off for regular dinners, consider starting a Sunday dinner tradition with your chosen family—friends from your neighborhood or around town.
And don’t overlook the chance to invite people from different generations than your own. When everyone starts telling their stories—from the youngest to the oldest—you might be amazed at the magic that happens!
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