Kris’ Corner – Dinnertime Rituals

February 16, 2023

Up next in the rituals line up: Dinnertime Rituals.

Before I begin, I must say that I fully realize this time slot may have overlap with afternoon and evening/bedtime rituals, but just want to point out a few things, as I’ve done with the other portions of the day, so feel free to slide those in wherever they fit best in your family.

Now, for my family, we try very hard to eat around the same time every night. We currently only have one child at home full time (the others are in college) so it is exponentially easier. But having lived through two others in the mix every day, I know when you have kids in activities (even just one activity each), it’s practically impossible to have a set dinnertime where everyone can be there every single night…honestly, even for MOST nights.

But even in the midst of busy-ness, I would attempt to have dinner at the same time every night, even if the whole family could not be there each time…because this can provide some stability and comfort for a child with trauma history. Using this ritual, the child knows when the dinner will be and there will be food. If dinner time fluctuates (especially to a later time) it can be triggering to children with food insecurity. (And if you live with a child with food insecurity, I know I’m not telling you something new.)

And another thing about the meal: It doesn’t mean you have to have a home-cooked meal every night. Take out, fast food, or a frozen pizza is absolutely OK. Give yourself permission to take the easy way out sometimes; I promise it’s going to be ok. And I assure you that I’m telling myself that as much as I’m telling you. The meal time often is not necessarily about what you are EATING, but what you are PROVIDING…which is stability and another opportunity for connection.

And speaking of opportunity for connection, I have another one to share: In our household, we struggled for a long time to keep our youngest son’s attention at the dinner table. He enjoys eating, but not necessarily when he’s forced to sit at a table. It’s odd, and we struggle still after eight years. But the device we have landed on to help streamline our dinners is playing a game of some sort. You might be thinking this is a totally crazy idea…and it just might be…or is it so crazy that it works?!? Well, it might not work for you, but this ritual works for us.

One thing I need to clarify: because there’s plates and bowls and glasses on the table, we usually end up going with a simple card game…and clearly not something rowdy like “spoons”. If there are just three of us (which is often the case), we might do a board game. But more often that not, we play a game with cards.

As an aside, we got a book of card games for kids that you just can play with a regular 52 card deck. We take turns choosing the game; and usually the winner from the night before goes first on the next night. This whole thing provides an opportunity to engage, interact, and just generally reinforce an understanding of rules and following directions…and above all else, discussions about not cheating.

To be honest, we’re still working on that one.

Plot twist: I must admit that we we began this ritual years ago, I thought it would just help create a habit and we’d eventually be able to stop. But we haven’t stopped. In fact, our selection of card games has grown exponentially…who knew there were that many options out there?!? And beyond that, as someone who grew up in a household where we didn’t play many games, I find that I look forward to it each evening…so there’s that lovely surprise too.

And now a few additional thoughts on with dinner time rituals: does someone set the table before dinner or does everyone grab their own? If that job doesn’t belong to someone, might it be nice to assign it (or rotate it) to allow everyone to serve the rest of the family in this way? Who clears the dishes afterwards? Who cleans up the kitchen or takes out the trash? Maybe everyone clears their own dishes, and someone is assigned to wipe the table. Someone (or more than one) helps clean up the cooking area. Once again, establishing a rhythm to clean up and instilling responsibility gives a chance for connection…and (you guessed it) becomes part of a ritual.

Per usual, this is just a little bit of my thoughts about this block of time and how through rituals you might give space to relationship-building and trauma healing.