As often as possible, we have dinner together as a family. I’ve heard the same studies that you’ve heard about the importance of those nights: how there is a correlation between eating meals as a family to better emotional well-being, higher grades, better eating habits, lower obesity and lower risk of dependence on drugs and alcohol for the children as they grow. So, every night we gather around the table to spend time together, share stories about our day and to practice our “attitude of gratitude.” I have noticed recently that, while family dinner is healthy for the boys, it wasn’t feeling so great for me.
Now, my sons are 5 and 3. They are wonderful kids and are wholly committed to the “war for attention” that siblings engage in. Dinner lately has been a loud, raucous event with the boys battling for the podium, not listening to each other (or Mom and Dad). Mom and Dad then get loud, and now no one is listening. With my nerves jangled, my head on the table and the kids in time out, Steve and I decided we needed a new plan. Dinnertime now has new rules.
- We take turns when we speak.
- We raise our hand if we have something to add.
- We don’t interrupt each other. We listen.
- We lower our voice if we are upset. We don’t raise it.
- If we ARE upset, we take 10 deep breaths before we speak, etc.
The “new” rules sound pretty basic, right? They are just common sense, just polite manners. Absolutely! You’re right. It’s easy. In fact, the rules are so easy that we adults often forget to practice them. We adults frequently ignore the rules on television, in chat rooms, on Facebook, in meetings, just about everywhere. We’re talking on top of each other, calling each other names, not listening to others when they speak, not considering other opinions beyond our own… not modeling the basic manners that we expect our children to follow every day at home or in the classroom.
Our world continues to change, becoming more connected and yet more polarized. We share every moment of every day, and it can bring people together. It also can drive people farther apart, ruining relationships and encouraging behavior in ourselves that we would never tolerate from our children. Time may change the way we communicate, but it doesn’t change the meaning of common decency, kindness and compassion. Time doesn’t diminish the value of intelligent discourse, of sharing ideas or seeing things from another point of view. We may not change our opinion, but that doesn’t mean someone else’s opinion isn’t equally as valid as the view that you may hold.
When you’re passionate, hurt or angry, it can be hard to slow down and listen someone else, and maybe still agree to disagree. It’s difficult to disagree in a hushed tone, to let someone else finish their thought and then to really consider it before we rush to speak. It’s much more respectful though, and a healthier way to resolve something. We may not raise our hands as children do in school, but we certainly should hold ourselves to the same standards of respectful communication that we hold our children to. Good manners and healthy communication shouldn’t be optional, regardless of whether it’s online, in a meeting or around the dinner table.
We expect it of our children. We should demand it from ourselves.