Setting the table

11 December 2012
Food is part of many of our family celebrations. When you think about Christmas lunches and dinners, Thanksgiving dinners, as well as birthday celebrations, Christenings, wakes and weddings breakfasts, food is eagerly brought into all those milestone events that bring extended families and friends together. But food is much more than part of a celebration, food is part of ordinary life and something that every one of us deals with every day of our lives.

Meal times are so entrenched in our daily lives, they're used to break up the day. We have breakfast soon after we wake up, lunch in the middle of the working day and dinner, tea or supper at the end of the day. As homemakers, our lives are partially driven by growing, shopping for and cooking food. If you go out to work, it's usually a quick breakfast, packed lunches and a planned meal when everyone returns home. Either way, food divides up the day and everyone deals with it.

It makes sense to me to use the day's main meal to come together as a family. Bringing everyone to the table to talk and listen, while enjoying a good meal, reminds us all that we're part of our family. Sitting down together teaches young children that it's important to stop everything, sit down and reconnect. Meal times can teach young children how to be part of their family. Young couples can talk about the day's activities over dinner and feel the absolute pleasure of being together again. Older couples feel that connection too. Here in our home, every day, the table is set with a tablecloth, cutlery, plates and glasses. Often fresh flowers and candles are set out beside the water jug or tea pot. Setting the table sets the stage for the meal; preparing for the meal makes it special.

Meal times are a significant part of family life, particularly the meal when everyone sits down together. It's important to keep the tradition of setting the table going. Setting the family table every day is a good job for young children and will bring them gently into doing their share of productive work for their own family. If you start young, and children grow up working alongside older members of the family, it gives them self confidence and a sense of pride, it makes them feel like an important part of the team. It gives you the chance to work closely with your children too. You can show them how it's done, explain the concepts of left and right and discuss the meal that will follow and why different meals need different knives, fork and spoons.

I have had the benefit of seeing many children grow from babies to adults and it is those who were expected to do age-appropriate work in their family homes when they were young, and grew up helping and being a part of their family and its work, who generally developed a good work ethic and became confident adults. Setting expectations for children to help when they're young makes it easier for them when they're older. 

And it can all start by placing knives, forks and glasses on a clean tablecloth every day. If we remember that sitting down to eat together is important, and encourage the younger members of the family to be part of the preparation, it is a gentle introduction to work for them. Almost all of us will spend many of our life hours working, either for pay or for love. Starting that work with setting the table is ideal. It's slow and easy work. It contributes to running the family unit successfully and it gives a sense of being a real part of the family.

Small steps. Always.