Part III – Time around the Dinner Table
From time to time someone will ask me how I fit in quality family time while working and traveling. Ultimately, it is all about making the decision to prioritize that part of your life. I have previously talked about my 24 Boxcar theory, where every hour of your day is a boxcar, and you make choices on what to fill those cars with.
Family time must be part of those 24 boxcars, even when I am out of town.
The way I look at it, family time does not always have to be an extensively planned outing. Quality family time is right at our fingertips, yet is often overlooked. I’ve always believed that in order to have quality time, you have to make quantity time. The reality is you can’t make quality time. Rather, you have to have enough quantity of time and then quality time will appear when you least expect it. Take, for example, the daily practice of family dinner. This is a hugely important part of strengthening family and community bonds. It gives families a chance to create engaging conversation between siblings and between children and parents.
It can be easy to get stuck in a rut of daily questions that don’t lead to engagement but instead lead to the same stock answers. Questions such as “What happened today at school?” can often lead to a known dead end answer of “nothing” or “the usual.” While these are important questions to ask your children, they are not the most effective way to bond and grow with them. That’s why, during my family time, I’ve found it invaluable to ask questions that spark the imagination, expand knowledge, and get everyone involved to create cross-generational relationships. These types of questions can range from the personal to the aspirational to the theoretical.
One way to spark true engagement is to make it a game by creating or purchasing a deck of dinner table question cards with a prompt or question that will start conversation about a topic that may never have arisen otherwise. Questions such as: “Where would you choose to live if you had to live in another country?” “Which wild animal would you most like to be?” “Which family or school rule would you most like to change?” “Is it more charitable to spend your money or time?
Through these conversations we learn more about our own hopes, dreams, and aspirations as well as those of our family, all over a single dinner.
One of the most significant benefits of these conversations to our family, which always seem to expand beyond the original scope of the question asked, is we get a chance to learn that we share many of the same hopes and dreams for ourselves as we do for one another, giving us a unique chance to learn from one another and a deeper understanding of how closely we’re all connected through our familial bond.
Another way to engage your children and make them feel special, valued and a part of what you do outside of the home is to bring them into your current environment. Just yesterday morning, as our 11 year old son, Brennan, was having breakfast and getting ready for school I said to him, “Brennan, I’d really like to tell you about all the different business deals I have going on right now so you can understand every time I’m talking about it at home. I’d also like to get your thoughts on some things.” He immediately got a smile on his face and said, “I’d like that.” Yesterday afternoon when he came home from school, one of the first things he asked me was, “Dad, can you tell me about all the deals you’re working on?” It was obvious to me that he’d been waiting all day to talk with me about it. Sometimes all it takes is to simply engage and get the conversation going.
These are just some of the ways I work to build relationships with my sons and my wife. I try to be very purposeful with the sometimes limited time I have with my family whether it is through the Red Plate tradition, helping them learn about finances and investment or simply through talking with them over dinner, and I am very thankful for each of these moments with my family.