Where There Is A Family

By Geneviève Hone

Where There Is A Family

Table manners

Family Dinner, by Julien Mercure
Image by Julien Mercure.

Home decorating magazines show lovely tables but no humans

Hone, small image.

10 May 2013 — Where there is a family, there is hopefully food and a table on which to serve it. Look through any home decorating magazine and you will find numerous pictures of lovely tables displaying beautiful table linen, dinnerware and of course fresh cut flowers. You will probably have noticed that most of these pictures do not include people. Put people in the picture and things will get messier, especially if the people are children!  

Let’s see how Granny Witch responds to the following letter.

Dear Granny Witch

Our three boys whom I dearly love drive me crazy. My husband and I provide them with wholesome food that we prepare with love and creativity. In return, they behave abominably at the dinner table. They argue, they complain, they put their fingers in their neighbors’ plate, they pick their noses, they poke their brothers’ face, they want to eat spaghetti with their hands, they compete to come up with the best dirty word, they call each other names. My husband is quite relaxed about this, being of the belief that boys only become interested in good table manners when they acquire a girlfriend. I, on the other hand, would like our dinners to be peaceful, civilized and enjoyable affairs, and if somebody said thank you once in a while, I’d really appreciate that too. I may come across as a complainer, being blessed with a loving family and all that, but still, table manners are really important to me. Please help.

Dining yet Whining


Dear Dining yet Whining,

Before you read further, take a deep breath… and another one… and still another one. Good. Now, take a moment to be grateful for what you have: food, a table and your family together. And, though this may go against your natural modesty, give your husband and yourself a moment of praise for the hard and perseverant work you both do to feed your family. This will start with working to provide food and shelter and from there, include menu planning, grocery shopping, baking, cleaning up, etc. Need I mention school lunches? Be the first to appreciate what you do: this will open up inner space for gratefulness expressed by others.

Teaching table manners is a complex undertaking, and this probably explains why some parents may be tempted to leave the job to their future children-in-law. You see, dear Dining yet Whining, when we learn table manners we learn so much more than using a fork rather than fingers to eat spaghetti. We learn about relationships. First of all, our own relationship with food, then our relationship with those close to us and finally, our relationship with the whole earth. Around the vast process of food production and consumption, humans have occasion to learn to: receive and be grateful, share, enjoy simple pleasures, work, accept and refuse, be respectful, be creative, ask, try new things and make mistakes, express ideas and feelings, make choices, and so much more.  The dinner table is an excellent practice field! You are right to insist on good table manners. Good manners help us move graciously through life, and grace is so important in these times of chaos and pain.  

May I make a few suggestions? I will not hold back, knowing that you can sort out for yourself what is useful and what isn’t.

•  Forbid all mention of food at the table, except to say thank you to whoever helped put food on the table today. That includes saying how this food is healthy for you. That you serve healthy food is a given, so there is no need to mention it any more than you would mention that the plates contain no lead. Conversations about food should be carried out during a family meeting, not at meal time.

•  Involve your family in food preparation, and menu planning. All they will want to eat is grilled cheese sandwiches, you say? Not a problem. The latest figures have just come in: there are at least 6128 ways of making grilled cheese sandwiches, some of which may not even contain cheese. Be creative. And keep a sense of humor!

•  People, especially children, can become quite miserable and grumpy when hungry. A few minutes before dinner, go and invite your boys, individually, armed with an appealing plate of fresh vegetables, “les crudités” as they would say in good French restaurants. Let them choose their favorites and allow them a few minutes to come to the table. No, this won’t spoil their appetite. You are offering vegetables here!

•  You don’t mention the age of your children, but if they are of an age where poking your neighbor’s nose and saying dirty words are considered the epitome of humour, they are probably quite young. Make sure the children are physically comfortable, that they can lean on the back of the chair while having their feet flat on the floor. A well placed cushion and a small step stool can make a big difference with a squirming and fidgeting child.

•  Experiment with different seating arrangements. Involve the boys in that process. We tend to sit at the same place over and over, even when we don’t have to: on the bus, at church, watching TV. Of course, you must occupy the same chair at the dentist’s, but most of the time, it’s perfectly legal to try new places! See what this does for and with your family.

•  Create rituals. For example, have your family take a moment to silently say thanks for good things that happened today. Have your family briefly join hands to greet each other as they gather at the table after being separated all day by school or work. Have the children choose a favorite song or short piece of music, to create an atmosphere. Have them mention one “high” and one “low” of their day. Explore, invent, go a bit crazy and you’ll discover together what works for you all.  

Dear Dining yet Whining, these are my suggestions. Use them if you wish, but most importantly, create your own suggestions with the help of your family. Above all, keep experimenting. And breathing!

I wish you the best of luck, and the next time you write, I hope you will be able to sign… “Having all manners of fun at dinner time.”

Granny Witch