What will you talk about around the table tomorrow? Politics, religion, people, emotions, the minutiae of your daily life? Do you talk about ideas with your family or do you avoid certain subjects because of differing opinions? Do you stick to sports or music or family history? Do you feel that honesty is the best part of conversation or that getting along is more important? Do you provide conversation starters or verbal games to focus your group?
When my kids were in high school, I would often try to prime the pump at family gatherings to get them to talk about their values. I knew their personalities were forming and changing rapidly, and I think I was a bit terrified that I didn’t know them at all. I would have everyone list things they were thankful for on Thanksgiving and share favorite memories at birthdays. I even had a book of conversation starters that I set on the table. I admit that I was also keen on steering them away from pop culture references that they all shared that left out my husband and me. How many times can you listen to the dialogue to “Anchor Man” at the dinner table before you lose brain cells?
I grew up in a family that talked about many subjects at the table. An entire wall of reference books stood behind the dining room table. My father would nip quarreling in the bud by saying, “It’s no use arguing about facts.” Then he’d look up whatever piece of information was in dispute. This was before you could Google everything in seconds. I don’t remember feeling very comfortable talking about my opinions, though. My father was a very strong authoritarian with a definition of “right” and “wrong” for everything. I feared his disappointment and his wrath, and I didn’t feel smart enough to legitimize any of my own thoughts. I would let my older sister or my younger brother engage in differences of opinion while I listened. I would also look for an opportunity to tell an amusing story and make everyone laugh. I just wanted to be liked.
Ideas are important. We live in interesting times. Values are important, emotions are important, knowing who your children are is important, appreciating your loved ones is important, challenge is important, peace is important, connecting is important. I usually put in a lot of effort in the kitchen before a holiday meal, and I suppose the payoff is having people be willing to sit down together for a couple of hours minimum. I’m really glad my kids are all in their 20s now so that is not too much to expect. But I won’t see them until Friday. Tomorrow, I’ll have Steve’s family at my table. I am looking forward to getting to know them better. I’m hoping we’ll share ideas and opinions and sharpen each other as well as appreciate and love on each other. I also hope that I will be able to speak honestly about myself and let them get to know me. And I’ll probably try to make them all laugh. I can’t help it; I do that.