The other day we watched the movie Secretariat. I wasn’t too excited to see it because it seemed predictable — you already know that the horse is going to win the Triple Crown. However, I found my enjoyment in the story of a family and in the history that the story portrayed. There was the traditional father, the mother who shows herself to be strong and “liberated,” the war protesting daughters, etc. Despite the tension between family members, they shared their stories around the dinner table.
Having been raised by my grandparents, we always ate dinner together as a family. The table was set properly, the food was presented in serving dishes, rather than pots straight from the stove, and we learned good manners. When I saw the kids in the movie ask, “May I please be excused?” I was taken back to my childhood. We were taught to eat with our napkin and spare hand in our lap; we said “please pass…”; in the unlikely event that we burped at the table, we said “excuse me”; and if we wanted to leave the table before the meal was over, we had to ask politely to be excused.
The most important thing I learned wasn’t proper etiquette though. The manners facilitated a time of family togetherness without distraction. We didn’t eat in front of the TV or even with the TV on and we didn’t answer the phone (or check Facebook, or text, or play games) while we were eating. The most important relationships were the four other people sitting at the table. I’m so thankful for this upbringing!
I know the world has changed in the last 10 years; that it’s not always possible to eat dinner as family; that families are broken; and that people have jobs and sports and other activities that make them unavailable. However, I think, one way or another, we need to prioritize family relationships. A a parent, I plan to set a good example for my daughter by sitting at the dinner table with her and giving her my undivided attention for a few minutes each day — without my phone or the TV as distractions. Hopefully in 10 years, when she has a life of her own, she will value this time each day enough to do the same.