We want our family meal times to be times of stimulating, thinking, purposeful conversation – either engaging all members of the family or a time when Dad or Mum can give instruction.  But… come the end of the day Dad or Mum are often very tired and the last thing we ‘feel’ like doing is engaging in conversation.  But it is needful!

I have found the best way for me to overcome my feelings and do what is needful is by preparing something earlier – which is the nature of being intentional.

Here are a few resources I have up my sleeve ready for the time I need something:

  • Thought provoking books – We read Do Hard Things by Brett and Alex Harris, aloud to our children after dinner (during dessert) and often paused to discuss something more fully.  At the moment we are reading (spasmodically) How to be your Own Selfish Pig by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay.  The chapters are short, narrative and leave you with plenty to talk about.  (Note;  People are often shocked at this title but it has a subtitle:  How to be Your Own Selfish Pig and other ways you’ve been brainwashed.  It is about discovering your worldview)
  • Current Affairs – Political events, national debates, and economic situations – all of these can be presented, and then taught into either from a knowledge or Biblical understanding perspective.  I must admit I leave most of these conversations to Peter!!  The thing to watch with this conversation is that we include the younger members and not just focus on the older ones who are interested.  It is a time to get the younger ones interested.  Sometimes the conversation goes beyond the younger ones and that creates a good time for the younger ones to leave the table and bless the older ones by doing the dishes for them.
  • Quotes – Whenever we read something that is poignant we print it off to bring to the table.  If we don’t talk about it that night, I place it in a folder called “Conversations” for another time.   One quote we just discussed with our kids was from Josh McDowell – Relationship lead to beliefs.  Beliefs form our values.  Our values drive our behaviour.   This quote is true for us as Christians – our behaviour will reflect our relationship with God, but it is also true in the parent/child relationship – our children’s behaviour reflects their relationship with us their parents.  You can go searching for quotes – simply Google “quotes” or “quotes [insert any subject]” and you’ll find a plethora of quotes which after some weeding through you can present to your children to provoke conversation and teach family values.
  • Family Stories and Faith stories – there are times that Peter and I need to tell our stories – either our personal growing up stories (kids love these) or our faith stories.  Faith stories are the testimonies of when God has shown his faithfulness.  Our children need to hear those stories.  This could also be the time we share what God has been saying to us in our daily readings.
  • Probing questions – The meal table is also a time where our children can express their beliefs.  This is important both for them to express themselves but also for us to hear where they are at.  Sometimes we may not like what we hear but that is okay (if we don’t react that is!).  If we truly have difficulty with what they are expressing we know we have to teach into it.  Your probing questions can encourage the kids to:
    • Critique things that they’ve read, seen or heard,
    • Define or describe an idea, concept or feeling,
    • Compare or contrast things,
    • Evaluate what’s gone on or a person’s perspective/premise,
    • Explain or outline a concept, philosophy, or workings,
    • Summarise a story or event, and
    • Justify a position (political, moral, spiritual)
  • Character issues – as we focus on a character trait each month the meal table is a good time to bring Dad into what we are learning.  I try to keep Pete in the loop by giving him a summary of the character trait before we start our lessons.  This helps him work on the same trait in his life as well as think about anything he wants to input into his family.  We talk about movie, story or Bible character who has or hasn’t displayed the trait and the implications of that, we talk about how to express that trait in our home and abroad.  We talk about any lessons that the Bible would have us learn regarding this particular trait.  Specific questions to ask could be:
    • What did you do today that showed [insert current character trait you are working on].
    • Did you see someone in the family practicing that character trait?
  • Getting to know you questions – Often families go around the table and each person has the opportunity to say what happened in their life that day.  We’ve found that a bit superfluous as we have been together all day.  But we do ask questions like
    • What did you learn today?  Explain it – teach it to us.
    • What did you read today? Why did that capture your interest?
    • What was the highlight of your day and why?
    • What was the best thing you heard today?
    • What was the best thing you saw today?
    • What was the best thing someone did for you today?
    • What can you do to improve tomorrow?
    • What could I help you with tomorrow?
    • What would you like to learn about? Or What skill would you like to master?
    • What is your favourite scripture at the moment?  Why?
    • What has God been saying to you lately?
    • Who or What have you been praying for lately?  Can we join you in prayer?
  • Family core beliefs – we need to constantly tell our children what we believe and why.  This comes through in the things we read and talk about and especially if we share the things God is saying to us but I think we can also make specific times to say – Our family believes in this…… and this is why.
  • Remember when – this is like faith stories (Remember when God was faithful) but this time it is more about fun family memories.  I remember when we grew up we had family slide shows after dinner – we reflected on family fun times.  This strengthens the idea that this family is great and I belong!

Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of ideas of the things we can talk to our kids about (besides I’m sure there are more to think about).  These are just prompts for me to keep things going rather than a check list that I refer to every night.  Some nights are simply crazy, hilarious riots – nothing serious about them at all.   We need balance even in our intentionality.

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