Today nations communicate instantaneously via satellite-relayed television. The rise and fall of governments come to us live and in color on the evening news. We can place a call and in seconds converse with someone halfway around the globe. But in spite of these fantastic worldwide communications breakthroughs, it is becoming increasingly difficult to communicate on the home front. Here's one tried and tested way to improve your own family communications and reap tremendous benefits in the process.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones really had their "quiver full of arrows," as the book of Psalms puts it. With ten children, they could look forward to seeing a virtual community of their own offspring once the grandchildren began to arrive. They could expect to retire in the midst of that "extended family" for which they were responsible, and spend their waning years in the delight of giving, sharing, and relating to their progeny. But it didn't work out that way. Their large house is practically empty now. The frantic hubbub of just a few short years ago is only an aching memory. Phone calls are few and far between, as are cards and letters. Visits from their grown children are seldom and brief. Each of them has joined his own "nuclear family," has his own problems, his own pursuits, his own life to live. Back when all the kids were home, there never seemed to be time for the whole family to get together. People came and went on their own unique schedules, and there were seldom more than two people in the same room at one time. The "dinner hour" stretched to four hours, and the kitchen seemed more like a cafeteria than a dining room, as the constant line of "customers" each catered to his or her own particular culinary desires. There was rarely an assembly of the entire family around the large dining room table. There was no sharing of daily events, of joys and disappointments, of plans and goals. There was no camaraderie, no unity — just a group of individuals enduring the formative years of their lives in an atmosphere of incredible loneliness. Father — the titular head of the family — was feared by one and all. Mother whined and complained, criticized and squelched, and the children gratefully welcomed every opportunity to either vacate the premises or lock themselves in stuffy bedrooms. Family conversation consisted of competitive wrangling, raised voices, challenging innuendos — and was generally completed within five minutes. The kids have all moved away now, and they don't visit with each other or their parents all that much. In fact, the Joneses have a few grandchildren they still haven't even seen. It was different with the Smiths. They, like the Joneses, had a large family — five children. They too raced off to school and work each day. They also had very little personal contact during the day, as each family member "did his or her own thing" — but unlike the Jones family, the Smiths almost ritualistically looked forward to the dinner hour, as a family! In spite of lean years, they knew they could always expect a colorful, delicious, well-balanced meal. Not always steak or gourmet delicacies, but always scintillating conversation. Current school traumas, differences with friends, and family difficulties were freely discussed around the dinner table. Going steady, boy-girl frustrations, and proper planning for happy marriage were talked about frankly and openly. As the years passed and the Smith children slowly emerged as young adults, the fruit of those one-and two-hour dinner conversations became increasingly obvious. The family trusted each other. Honesty was the rule, not the exception. The children knew and understood their parents, and were able to share in the responsibilities of life in a large family. They were aware of the need for economy, frugality, thrift, appreciation, and consideration for others, because these subjects had all been regularly discussed during those precious dinner conversations. As the children left home one by one, they began to put what they had learned into practice. Many important and subtle lessons had found their way into the children's minds and hearts. They made beautiful, happy marriages and threw open their homes to the "old folks," making them welcome in every way. And to the joy of the Smiths, their children sought every possible opportunity to return "home." Backyard barbecues, swim parties and just plain fellowship filled most weekends. And there were still many times to sit as a family around the dining table and discuss plans and trials and goals.
Our Instant Society
In a hurry-up society such as ours, there is sometimes very little opportunity to relate together as a family like the Smiths. With each family member running off to his or her respective endeavor, sometimes dinner is the only time available to regroup and rendezvous. The family that eats together is a family which is aware of each member's dreams and goals, frustrations and accomplishments, fears and desires. It is a family characterized by closeness — by love and stability, by outgoing giving and concern. It is a growing, nurturing family which is preparing to become an integral part of the future of the world. World authorities, philosophers, theologians and sociologists all agree that the basis for any strong community — whether local or international in scope — is a strong family relationship. But today family communication is being eroded by incredible societal pressure to fragment, to go separate ways. People who pride themselves on being in the know about the stock market or world events might blush when asked a simple question like "Where are your kids tonight?" Family members today race through life at an almost numbing pace. Time is the motivating factor in determining our daily modus operandi. We frantically gulp down instant breakfast, drink instant coffee, hear instant news, attend instant meetings, have instant temper explosions, and finally — at the end of our weary instant day — eat an instant catch-as-catch-can meal before watching the instant entertainment on our personal television set. Kids today complain that parents just don't have any time for them. No time to sit down and answer those important questions that kids ask. Only time for an instant "Yes," or "No," or "I don't know." No patience to sit down and listen as an anxious teenager pours out whatever is in his or her heart. If you're living in a family situation, what is your home like? Are your children being prepared to face the world that awaits them? Is there time to answer their earthshaking questions and listen to their miniature tragedies and triumphs? If the answer is "No," or only "Sometimes," perhaps you ought to consider the virtues of a regular family dinner hour — precious time in which to pass around some love.