We know the Europeans are right – the family dinner should be more about socializing, relaxing, and celebration than just eating. But for busy families, it’s usually all we can do to get food and the bodies at the table at the same time. Being relaxed and in entertainment mode might be more than we can muster. So to help you out a bit, here are just a few ways you can turn a mundane family dinner into a dinner party.
What if – Alien: You could conjure up a fun (and full of beans) approach to all kinds of alien situations – such as: “I need your help. When I went to the bathroom at Home Depot, a three eyed, foul smelling alien came out of the next stall and tried to communicate with me…” (and hilarity ensues. If not, you all may be taking life too seriously.) Hot tip: Imagination rocks! It puts your kids on equal footing with the adults, stimulates the brain, provides a break from the busy-ness and stresses of daily life, and it sure can be fun.
Anywhere in the World: “For your high school graduation, Uncle Goofy is going to drop you off at the airport, give you a million dollars and stipulate the money is yours only if you leave immediately and travel outside the U.S. for one year.” “Which country would you fly to?” “How many other countries would you visit?” “What would you do?” “Would you spend all the money abroad?” “Who would you ask to join you?” Caution: if school hasn’t kindled a desire to learn about foreign lands and customs, this might. You may even be asked for a loan so he/she can vagabond after school. (I highly recommend it.)
Go Hollywood: Your kids have been discovered by a Hollywood producer! You tell them: “She will make a movie from your story line and put you in the leading role” You could then discuss possible stories: heroism, romance, adventure, friendship; who of their friends and classmates would play what roles in the movie, etc. Revelations: In case your kid doesn’t talk much about what’s going on at school and in his life, these fictionalized stories may reveal his true desires, relationships and potential issues he’s dealing with.
Invite Dead People to Dinner: You propose, “If you could get any three people from History to come to our house for dinner this Friday, who would you ask?” Follow up questions could include “What would you ask them about events in their time”, Do you (the guest) like the progress we’ve made?” Would you invite guests that might get along or that would get into passionate arguments? Unintended Consequence: Your kids may pay a little more attention to History and think about the relevance of people’s choices and their impact on others.
You won the lottery! Sure, we all daydream about this. But after all of you talk about the fun and frivolous stuff, you could consider questions with a little more depth: Many winners of the lottery are broke after one year. Would that happen to you? Do you think new friends would like you for you, or for your money? Would you really not work if all your friends are working? Would you be a showoff, would you use the money to help other people, would you save and invest at least half? Character Lesson: An opportunity to think about the values of friendship, loyalty, responsibility – and greed. “Money can’t buy happiness” is more than a trite expression.
Icebreakers: These are just a few ideas that lighten the mood and make dinnertime an event we look forward to. Topics like these facilitate parents talking with their kids instead of talking to (or down to) their kids. After some fun time, you’re more likely to get a better than one-word answer to “So, how was school today?”