One of the beautiful things about the holidays (weird uncles notwithstanding), is getting together with your friends and family over dinner.
What if we could have a few more of those throughout the year? What if, instead of so-so dinners that everyone opts out of, you had a weekly or monthly family night that you made special?
These dinners are opportunities to create memories, produce feel-good hormones like oxytocin, and help family members feel more connected in a less-and-less connected world. Yes, jaded teens and young adults may balk at the idea at first and may flake off (or try to) the first few times, but over time if you stick to making these dinners fun and special, you’ll win them over.
You’ll need a few ground rules:
The evening must include fun!
If teenagers are in the mix, you have to add activities they may find enjoyable. But they’re not the only ones who could use a little fun. Adding fun to the mix, gives everyone something to look forward to and is key to making this consistent.
It must to be mandatory
To ensure certain family members don’t flake off, you must have some type of rule defining what can trump it; 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. By sharing these dinners with guests, you’re also helping to build community and have opportunities to get to know your kids’ friends better. And think on this: For someone, your home may provide the only glimpse they get of a normal family life!
Now, let’s look at my five ways to make family dinners more fun (and hopefully, more frequent)!
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. It’s usually more fun to watch than to do, is a great opportunity to get your family to share, learn something and even help develop speaking and communication skills.
There are Table Topics card games you can buy, but for this type of setting, I like the idea of coming up with your own questions.
Answers should be a minimum of 30 seconds and a maximum of 2 minutes long. The “dealer” can choose who to direct questions to, or can allow people to choose which questions they will answer. You can hack this game to suit your family — your goal is to make the questions interesting, topical, and 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 healthy fun that 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 here I’m talking about a family with a defined set of values and a mission statement. This organized approach to family, makes 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? Psychologically, 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 planning events and coming up with themes is your thing (it’s one of my favorite things to do!), you’ll get a creative jizz coming up with themes. If you’re not so creative, asking a family to take over that area is a good idea. You can also ask your more creative friends for help or look online for ideas.
Try these do’s:
- Consider matching your theme with any holiday, with the season, or anything special your family is celebrating.
- Plan around what your family likes and get their input.
- Text teasers of the “surprises in store” in the days leading up to the event.
- Ask family members to be part of your planning committee
- Let little ones help you with the setup.
Why do this? Themes will definitely elevate the evening.
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? Create shared memories. I’m going to be a bit deep here and tell you that people who have come back from death tell us, these are images that flash before their eyes. These are moments that matter but if you don’t create them, they won’t happen and everyone will go their separate ways — living under the same roof but leading very separate lives.
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.
- 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). The point is to take one or two ideas and create something YOUR family would find fun and meaningful.
- Don’t make it stuffy or too formal for your family. Everything you do, should consider them and be aligned with with who they are. The point is to elevate the celebration — not the food, the stuff, or anything else.
- Think of some way to make the evening “sacred”…because if your family is like most, you know someone may try to start something. Plan for that and know how you will handle beforehand–who will be bad guy, etc.
- Making this a consistent thing is pretty much like making any habit consistent, don’t give yourself an out. If someone needs to travel, ask them to call in during, save a piece of cake for them — in other words, leave the lighthouse light on.
- If yours is one of those families that are too far gone…lack the nature to appreciate these dinners or are too toxic for you to want to spend time with them, consider monthly dinners out with friends at a standing restaurant.