I’ve been married for a few years (okay, over 27!). With that, we have six children, with each one of them married and doing pretty good in their own regard. Statistically speaking, you would think that one of them would be way off the tracks — I mean far enough off that they would need a boat instead of walking shoes. Fortunately for us, that’s not the case.

Good parenting? Possibly. Forgiving environment? Maybe. Silver spoon? More than likely purchased at Walmart. Accountability? Yeppers. Forgiveness? When needed. Sounds pretty mundane so far, to the point of familiar? It’s not too uncommon.

When recently asked what was the one bit of advice I could give, after looking back on my life and my wife and I raising our kids, what would it be? Truthfully, my answer is, “Eat dinner around the table every night as a family.”

Thanks for reading this article…wait, that’s not all? You want to hear a little more? Okay, here goes…

Let’s set some ground rules about dinner first. Everyone was expected to eat dinner at home each night of the week, unless specifically excused for a specified purpose that had to be specific. Is this specific-enough for you?

Though this may sound a little militaristic or overbearing, it truly wasn’t. There were definitely times when one of my kids would call home and ask if they could stay over at so-and-so’s house — their friend’s parents invited them to just stay for dinner because they were in the middle of some project or something (Remember specific? Apply here.)

To make it clear with our kids, they knew that each night we would be sitting down at the table at 5:30 p.m. to eat (truth: Saturday’s time varied a little with activities). As my mother would say, “I either want to see your face or hear from you ahead of time (dinner time).” Seemed fair enough for me growing up, so it was added to our household expectations.

Let’s get down to nitty-gritty. Was our main concern that our kids get a healthy meal each and every night? Not really. Though my wife certainly could set a table for our crew. On a side-note, while our kids were growing up and the eldest was nearing the end of high school, we would cook a Saturday breakfast that consisted of 18-scrambled eggs, a loaf of bread, and a gallon of milk. I probably failed to mention that my eldest five are boys, and man they could really throw it back — but I digress.

Why was this time important? Simple. It was a daily check-in to see how the kids were doing, to hear how their days went, to give them the opportunity to be heard (by my wife and I, and their siblings), to share any events that were coming up, to voice any concerns (about home or outside the home), to discuss family matters, and lastly, to learn good table manners (you’re welcome mom).

That may seem like a long-list of items, though certainly it’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but it truly was our focus at meals. I believe that this is a big reason that we are still close as a family. Although we no longer have nightly meal time, we are blessed to have our kids living close enough to us that we have a standing Sunday meal time of 6 p.m. (though we are switching back to 5:30 p.m. next year due to church schedules).

At those Sunday meals we have a few regulars and a few that are able to make it at least monthly. In fact, we even had our second-oldest son build us an over-sized, custom family dinner table to accommodate all the adults — we bring in a smaller table for the grandkids, let’s hear it for big dining areas!

This continued gathering gives us the same opportunity as before, catching up with the kids and having them catch up regularly with each other.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say that this formula is no guarantee that a child won’t need that aforementioned boat if they find themselves off track. However, we have encouraged the paddlers to come to the table each week so we can help them bail and encourage them to keep paddling.

Well, there you go. That’s my two-cents, minus taxes of course.

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