One of the beautiful things about the holidays (weird uncles notwithstanding), is getting together with friends and family over dinner.
But do we need a Hallmark sponsored date to have special dinners?
What if we could do more of them throughout the year?
What if, instead of ho-hum dinners, you did something quarterly or monthly that take on the specialness of the holidays?
Why do it?
These dinners are opportunities to create family traditions and memories, produce feel-good hormones like oxytocin, and help us feel more connected in a world that’s feeling less-and-less like it.
Want to give it a try?
a few ground rules:
It must be mandatory
Have some type of rule defining what can trump family dinners; think death or jail! OK, that might go a tad too far, but you get the idea!
This would make it easier for family members with active social lives to participate. It’s a chance to get to know your kids’ friends better, and for someone, your home may be their only glimpse into a stable family life.
The evening must include fun!
Have activities everyone would enjoy, look forward to, and want in on.
Now, here are my five ideas to make these dinners extra fun (and hopefully, turn them into a tradition):
1. Do Table Topics
Toastmasters, the international organization that helps people develop their speaking skills, have a segment at every meeting called “Table Topics.” It’s the highlight of the evening and the point is to think on your feet. Do this as a pre-meal icebreaker about 90 minutes to an hour before dinner.
There are Table Topics card games you can buy, but for this, I like the idea of coming up with your own questions.
You can hack this game to suit your family’s style and preferences — decide the order of the questions, whether people can “pass” with a penalty, or device other rules. The goal though is to have interesting topical questions and to make the game fun.
Here are a couple sample questions:
- If you could pick your own name what would it be and why?
- What was the most hilarious tweet or post you saw this week?
- What’s the last thing you did for someone that made you feel good?
Why do this? It’s great fun and builds communication skills.
2. Give Family Awards
Ever thought of looking at your family as a business? Hold up… I don’t necessarily mean a making-money business (although that’s a thing — and it can be done with purpose and healthy intentions), but what I’m talking about is having a defined set of values and a mission statement. This organized approach to family would make giving awards for the “Most Helpful,” “Most Loving,” or “Fill-in-the-blank of the Month” appropriate, but you can give awards without being in a “family business.”
Why do this? You’d be creating a more connected, on purpose family unit.
3. Have A Gratitude Segment
Another game your family might enjoy is the “Best and Worst”game where each person shares the best and worst part of their day or week.
Why do this? Adding any type of gratitude segment is a way to teach values to little ones and encourage your family as a whole, to look for the good in life.
4. Create Dinner Themes
If you’re not so creative, you could ask a family member or your more creative friends to help and let little ones help you setup. You can also look online for ideas and themes like these to celebrate:
- A holiday on the calendar that month.
- Special events like the Super Bowl or Groundhog Day.
- Celebrate your kids – their going back to school, their birthdays, etc.
- Do a 70s, 80s or 90s thene
- Celebrate with the fashion and foods of a country like Belgium, Mexico or Jamaica.
Why do this? Themes can elevate the evening and give it a purpose.
5. Go All-out For Dessert (or any one thing)
End the evening with something out of the ordinary that you know will be a hit with the whole family; a movie, karaoke, a favorite dessert, or even a talent show. I’m cheesy, what can I tell you?
Why do this? Ending with something “sweet” is a way to ensure they’ll want to come back. We can’t resist that!
I hope you will use some of these ideas and create some of your own. I know that with more frequent (healthy) gatherings, your family will grow stronger, more emotionally connected, feel safer, and through your example, become great parents to their own kids when the time comes.
I’m going to get a bit deep here and share a truth: People who’ve had near-death experiences tell us that it’s these moments that flashed before their eyes just before the lights went out (so to speak). These are the moments that matter most but if we don’t plan them, they won’t happen. And everyone will go their separate ways — living under the same roof but leading separate lives.
Follow these guidelines
- Using all five of these ideas at once could be considered overkill, and I don’t recommend it. Although, I’m sure some of you could totally pull it off.
- Consider what type of family you’re planning for: don’t make it stuffy or too formal if your family isn’t about that.
- Think of ways to make the evening “sacred”…because if your family is like most, you know someone may try to get their issues out over dinner. Have a rule making it an “issue-free’ zone and also plan for that idiot who will forget or push their luck. Know beforehand who will handle such situations and how.
- Don’t give yourself an out. Have it no matter what. If someone needs to travel, ask them to call in during and save a plate for them.
Can’t see your family going for this idea?
Or maybe you have a toxic family who you’d prefer to avoid.
Consider monthly dinners with friends at home or at the same restaurant you all love.