New Ideas for Dinnertime
“If our family eats at the same time, we’re watching TV in the living room.”
Is this a typical picture of:
a) An American family
b) A Christian family
c) A ministry family
d) All of the above
Sharon Fleming believes in family mealtimes especially for Christians. As a mother of four, Sharon says time around the table is a place to get to know each other and to teach spiritual and social principles to the children.
Sharon wrote Around the Table: Connecting with Your Family at Mealtimes as a resource for all families whether one or twelve kids, or one or two parents. The principles and ideas can help households rise above work and sports schedules, texting and video games.
Although the book is only 80-pages and less than $6.00, it can build a solid heritage for future generations. It can be read in one afternoon while the kids are napping, and the reader can have at least one new idea by dinnertime. It is loaded with creative tips to make quality mealtimes fit any lifestyle with little effort. Everything in the book has been tried and proven by Sharon for most of her life.
She and her husband, Jim, were missionaries in South America for almost twenty-five years. Jim was raised in a missionary family (he is the nephew of Peter Fleming, one of the missionaries killed by the Auca Indians in Ecuador in the ‘60’s). Currently, they are working with ECS Ministries, an organization that inspires people around the world to study the Bible through correspondence courses.
Sharon has graciously invited JBU readers into her home through this article.
JBU: Define “family mealtime.”
SHARON: My definition has changed now that we have a teen with a 4-7PM work schedule, a college student with evening classes, a daughter with her own apartment, and a husband who travels. It used to be everyone in the family all together at the table at the same time. Now it’s as many at home…at the same time…at the table.
JBU: Paint a picture of the atmosphere around your table.
SHARON: We both grew up having family mealtimes, so as soon as we were married we ate breakfast and dinner together every day. When the kids were little, devotions were under five minutes and food was kid-friendly. Now we eat regularly with the two at home—sometimes salad with one and the main course with the other. Our daughter who has her own place comes twice a week. We have interesting discussions at the table and the kids enjoy lingering after the meal to talk. I rarely have to remind them to say, “Please” and “Thank you”, but I still remind not to play with the centerpiece!
JBU: How did you teach table manners?
SHARON: Our kids always ate with the adults. Right from the beginning, they learned to sit at the table until they were excused and to treat one another with respect. We emphasized that manners are ways of making everyone comfortable. We invented games to teach them, but sometimes we resorted to nagging. That didn’t usually have good results!
JBU: What are your rules for a happy mealtime?
SHARON: The general rule is to help everyone feel comfortable, which includes not criticizing the food. Also, technology is not allowed at the table. We have taken phones away when our kids (or mom and dad!) were texting at the table. A good discussion question is: what makes you uncomfortable at dinner? Then discuss how to make everyone comfortable.
JBU: What is not allowed in the conversation?
SHARON: We don’t let them criticize or pester each other. We work hard to keep the time upbeat. Dinner isn’t the place to scold, dole out punishments, or settle arguments. Those things can come after the meal or, if necessary, move to the next room. But all kinds of topics are allowed.
JBU: Is the mealtime planned or spontaneous?
SHARON: I organize the food, chores, rules, centerpiece, devotions, and sometimes the conversation. But if things happen to foil the plans, I’m flexible. Eating a sandwich together on paper plates is still a family mealtime.
JBU: How has regular family time helped your kids desire personal time with the Lord?
SHARON: They not only participated in consistent family devotions but they had the example of Jim and me having individual devotions. When they were little, I taught them to play quietly while I read the Bible without interrupting me. We always provided age appropriate books or recordings to encourage them to have “quiet times.”
JBU: Are all your children following the Lord as a result of being in a closely knit family?
SHARON: All of them love us and love each other, but one is breaking our hearts at this time by choosing to believe the lies of the world. We pray and continue to love.
JBU: What are some ways to stay connected when apart?
SHARON: As missionaries to South America, we were especially creative because there was no Internet and our letters took two weeks each way. One way we kept being part of lives back in the States was to celebrate special events with them:
- On Grandma’s birthday, we’d have a cake too.
- On Election Day, we’d do a family poll, and ask the kids what makes a good president.
- On an uncle’s vacation, we’d put a map on the wall and follow their route.
Currently, Jim travels internationally four months a year, so we are always thinking of creative ways to stay connected, like to Skype our supper even though it may be his breakfast.
JBU: How does family time continue to benefit you personally?
SHARON: Eating together gives me connection with each individual on many levels. I grow closer to them and to the Lord from the time spent learning and sharing values together.
To order Around the Table:
- Favorite Scripture verse/passage: Jeremiah 23:9-10
- Favorite song or book: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
- Favorite book: The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
- Your hobby: Making stamped cards and cross stitching
- A fun thing she likes to do with her husband: Being “alone” on a plane to talk or being quiet together.
To contact Sharon: