Photos and text by Gabrielle. Additional photos by Ben Blair. This post is brought to you by Mealtime Movement.
In the spring, my family took the Mealtime Movement Challenge for two weeks, and it is so good! I think you would love it too! The Mealtime Movement is focused on getting more people to share more connected meals, more often. They believe (and I agree) we’re all better when we eat together. And the challenge comes out of aiming for that goal. I love this movement and I’m totally on board, so I said, “Yes! Let’s do it!”
The idea is to use food as a time to connect with your family. Think of “mealtimes” as anytime you enjoy food together — in the car, at sporting events, take out, eat out, wherever you’re eating, whatever you’re eating. Everyone has to eat, and even if it’s not a “wholesome meal at home” you can still make it meaningful. The hope is that this challenge can evolve into a ritual for our families.
But what is the “challenge” exactly? Well, it’s simply this: using the Expert Tips below as your guide, for two weeks, prioritize making mealtimes a time to connect (and please, define mealtimes as loosely as you’d like).
Expert Tip #1:
Stop the “Why”
From Laura Landry Meyer, Ph.D., CFLE
“‘Why’ questions often put a person in a defensive mode. In response to a why question, individuals often must justify their belief or provide a rationale for a belief. Switch the why to a WHAT.”
Instead of “Why didn’t you tell me about the situation on the school bus?” ask “What are some reasons you didn’t tell me about the situation on the school bus? “
Family members often need the opportunity to discuss the factors and reasons and have the faith that they are not judged, and can be open and real with each other.
I love the way Dr. Meyer offers us an opportunity to spin language and allow it to give us new ways to open up our communication.
Challenge: For two weeks, make an effort to STOP ASKING WHY and ASK WHAT when sharing food.
Expert Tip #2:
Try a talking circle
From Laura Landry Meyer, Ph.D., CFLE
“This Navajo tradition, in which one person shares their rose, bud and thorn for the day is a simple way to connect around a meal.” Rose = something that makes you happy. Bud = something you are looking forward. Thorn = something that is bothering you.
Challenge: Knowing that family rituals create bonds, try this new family exercise for two weeks. And keep trying! It is often the small things that become large emotional connections for families.
Expert Tip #3:
Open it all up
From Norman Shub,Clinical Director, Gestalt Associates
Want your kids to share with you? Share with them. Vulnerability is taught through osmosis. Kids are fascinated by hearing parents talk about their struggles and mistakes, so share yours to start a conversation about a difficult topic.
Challenge: Air your dirty laundry during these two weeks. Be more open with your family. Tell stories of the past. Pick a day that you tell a family love story. Something shocking about your past. A strange tale. Anything.
That’s the challenge! And we, the Blair Family, tried it. For two weeks. Yes, we tried this at the dinner table, with the whole family gathered around a lovingly prepared meal. But come on, that doesn’t happen every night. Not even close!
So we also tried this while getting ice cream. And we tried it over a casual meal of rotisserie chicken and pickles and olives and fruit and cheese — eaten around the kitchen island. We tried this getting fast-food at Betty Burger, and at a celebratory dinner at a restaurant in Alameda. We tried it during our family Easter dinner, and while getting late night Frosty’s at the drive-thru. Lots of times it was the whole family, but we also tried it when only some of us were around.
Here are my thoughts. First, I LOVE that the mealtimes could be anytime we were sharing food, no matter how casual. If the challenge had required the whole family to share a sit-down meal every night, that wouldn’t have worked for us. The loose definition of meal made this very doable, but it also got me thinking about how to bring better conversation into our lives on a more regular basis.
I think that was the number one benefit for us. Instead of reserving our conversation rituals for traditional family dinners, this helped me see that if I expand my definition of mealtime, we’ll have many more opportunities to connect. Which is awesome! Speaking of conversation rituals, Expert Tip #2 was a hit. We all like the chance to share our rose, bud, and thorn of the day. If the kids were feeling silly, they would add other flower parts too — they’d share a root, a stem, and a leaf in addition to the rose, bud and thorn. : )
Another thing I loved was that this helped me focus on each child individually and consider what their day had been like, and what was on their mind. Sometimes, it seems like mealtime conversation is dominated by one or two voices — the people who are feeling the most energetic at that moment. But this challenge made sure everyone gets a voice.
Lastly, I loved Expert Tip #1 and the focus on asking what instead of why. I found that it kept the conversation really open and it prevents a lot of unproductive criticism from creeping in. When no one feels attacked or feels like they’re getting grilled about mistakes, they are excited to join in and take part, confident that they won’t be shot down. So important.
If you want to give it a try, Mealtime Movement had one more bit of advice that I found helpful: “Remember the goal is to have a conversation, not turn it into a lesson. Talk to each other. As the adult, be the leader in asking questions and answering first. Show your loved ones that you are sharing, so they will be brave too.”
What do you think? Would your family be up for a challenge like this? Does your mealtime conversation ever tend to feel stressful? Do you already have conversation traditions in place (like rose, bud, thorn) that make meals more meaningful? What do you think about the other Expert Tips? Do you ever share “shocking” things with your kids from your past? How do you think your kids would respond to trying a challenge like this?