I think my favorite part about eating together as a family is the conversations we share. This is the time of day where we are all sitting at eye level and connecting with one another. The conversations are of great variety and all serve together to make us a family.
Of course we have the normal, "How was your day?" kind of discussions. This is a great time to catch up on each other's lives as we have all lived in four different worlds for several hours. Depending on the day, this time can be a brief conversation or fill the dinner hour. But what I want to share with you is one aspect of our dinner conversation that you may or may not have given much thought.
I want to share with you the importance of having adult conversation around the table in the presence of your children. Some of you may avoid this kind of conversation thinking it is insensitive to your children to have discussions that they may have a hard time relating to or entering. In my opinion and experience, adult conversation is of great benefit to children of all ages.
One of the benefits for your children is the opportunity it gives them to learn new vocabulary. I have heard several times over the years from my boys' teachers how impressed they are with our children's vocabulary. While it makes me feel proud as a parent to hear that, it isn't something we worked on like other areas. I don't often hear, "your kid's obey right away." That is something that we have sweated over and still sweat over. But vocabulary? We don't give vocabulary quizzes to our kids and study words with them, we just talk to and around them using "grown-up words."
Another benefit to having adult conversation with and in front of your children at all ages is to help them with conversation skills. They need to learn that life doesn't always revolve around them. This can be a hard concept for young children. Of course, we talk with our kids about their interests, but we don't stop there.
Adult conversation helps them to learn to listen and be quiet when appropriate, and how to enter a conversation they may have little knowledge of and ask good questions. When they are small they will mostly be focusing on the quiet part. But it may amaze you how closely they are listening, and how young they will be able to start entering the conversation.
Probably the most beneficial aspect of having adult level conversations at the dinner table is the worldview you are teaching your children. You are showing your kids how you view life. Discussions may include what you believe about God, or current politics and world events. Your conversation may be about how you responded to a problem with a boss or co-worker or what you did when a store forgot to charge you for the large item on the bottom of your cart, or how you responded when a store overcharged you for an item. You may share how you felt when you were asked a question that made you feel uncomfortable to tell the truth. You may even discuss if you can afford a new couch or strategies for paying off your house.
From these everyday, grown-up conversations your kids learn about God, politics, honest living, how to deal with interpersonal conflict, peer pressure, finances, and so much more. We tell our kids not to lie, but do we live it? So much is being communicated to them about life and worldview from what we as parents say and do from the time they are very small.
As your children grow, they enter more and more of this conversation and should be encouraged to do so. When you are talking about buying that new couch, use it as an opportunity to explain to them that it is very unwise to go into debt, especially for something that loses value so quickly. We have told our kids that many people are tired of the color of their warn out, stained carpet before it is paid off. If someone saves up to buy something it is so much more valuable to them and rewarding than having to pay for something they already have.
We have explained all of the dangers of credit and how tempting and easy it is to get into debt. They probably don't remember our hand me down and thrift store furniture, so we remind them that it takes a long time to save for things and not to expect to have everything we have now when they are just starting a home.
It will be many years before my kids need to worry about buying furniture, but they are learning life lesson that will hopefully serve them well in their future. This is just one example that can be multiplied many times over.
If you save adult level conversation until your kids are old enough to participate, they will not have an example of how to participate and miss out on so many benefits. Grown-up conversation is something they observe and learn over time. So don't be afraid to share grown-up words and concepts with your children. They are learning more than you know.