The life stories we cherish enough to share someday all begin with conversations and experiences. While raising a family, it can be difficult to carve out time in our day for meaningful conversations with our young children. For the last few years I’ve been following a program called The Family Dinner Project  whose mission is to help families develop mealtime traditions. 

The free program is a nonprofit initiative of Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. According to its website, research has shown that sharing fun family meals together is good for the spirit, brain and health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family meals with the kinds of behaviors that parents want for their children: higher grade point averages, resilience, and self-esteem. It has also been linked to lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and depression. 

Conversing with your children at dinner can nourish ethical thinking. Through this movement, the project organizers believe, families will realize the benefits of teaching their children how to come together for a meal and, the value of setting aside time for meaningful conversations with each other. Together everyone figures out the logistics of setting dinnertime goals, balancing work schedules, and engaging in conversation to improve the frequency and quality of their mealtime interaction.

What I love about the project is its push for fun mealtime conversations. Each month in its newsletter is a themed Recipe For Conversation, a simple recipe card with three to five questions to ask your children at the table. 

Imagine how much fun it would be to record the answers your children give.

Talk to them. Listen to what they have to say.  Make their thoughts and opinions matter to you. Remember, children are learning all the time. The traditions you set today will help them tomorrow. The point is coming together as a family like a fun private staff meeting, and talking about life, your life.

My children are notorious for starting intimate conversations with me when I’m driving the car and can’t get away or when I’m cooking dinner over a boiling pot.  My two oldest are now mothers who see the value of those precious dinner table conversations. Getting my teenager to converse at the end of the day, however, is like pushing an old plow. There’s grunting and moaning with one-word answers. Sometimes the conversation doesn’t move forward until I say, “The things that are important to you are important to me. What’s going on in school? Tell me something good about your day today and why. Tell me a wish. OK, now what challenges are you dealing with? Let’s talk about it.”

The Family Dinner Project is loaded with tips on making mealtime fun. themes, and even has an FAQ section that addresses how to handle the one-word teenager stage. While I’m not a fan of cell phones at or near the dinner table, I’d love to use the voice memo app to record the answers to this month’s questions (maybe during dessert):

  1. In what ways do you hope to be like your father when you get older?
  2. What is the most valuable thing your Dad has taught you?
  3. What’s the funniest or fondest memory you have of your father or father figure?
  4. If you could give your Dad anything in the world, what would it be?
  5. What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to know about your father or father figure, but have never asked?

Maybe I’ll do that in the car.