Q: Our family is crazy busy; the only time we're (usually) all in one place is at dinner. How can we get the most out of our household mealtimes?
Jim: This is a very common scenario. Honestly, if your clan is together in one place at one time almost every day, you're already ahead of many families!
A meal can -- and should -- be an occasion for decompressing, commiserating and encouraging one another. It's a time to laugh, learn how to listen and speak politely, establish each individual's identity as a member of the family and sometimes welcome guests.
But realistically, this is an art -- not a science. The key is to find the proper balance. You don't want to adopt such a rigidly "intentional" approach that you squelch spontaneity. You can use questions, stories, books, articles, games and jokes to jump-start productive conversation. Try going around the table and asking each family member to share a favorite memory or personal goal. Naturally, this is a good time to talk about healthy eating habits. The possibilities are almost endless.
Ideally, the family table should be filled with warmth, respect, safety and mutual support. It needs to be a place where everybody is genuinely interested in what everyone else has to say. That starts with Mom and Dad. If no one seems to have much to say, stir the pot with a few open-ended questions, like "What was the highlight of your day?" or "What didn't go well today?"
Whatever you do, I strongly recommend turning off all electronic devices before everyone gathers. Your physical presence around the table won't accomplish anything if your minds are somewhere else. Make dinner a time to talk to one another without digital distractions. The whole point is to connect in meaningful ways and grow closer as a family.
Q: My boyfriend is a great guy, but his best buddies are party animals. Although he doesn't participate in their extracurricular activities, I still feel anxious whenever he's hanging out with them. What should I do?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: We've heard this from a lot of women. There are a couple of ways to look at the situation. Much depends on an honest assessment of your boyfriend's character. Sometimes a man will hang on to morally mismatched friendships in order to hopefully provide a positive example and influence. That's a tough assignment. Before moving toward a more serious relationship, you'll need to observe and confirm over time that your boyfriend is indeed a man of strong and noble character.
BUT -- if you have any doubts on that score (and your anxious feelings suggest you might), it's important to ask yourself why you're involved with this guy. Are you hoping to change him into someone better? If so, that's probably a losing proposition. As we say in psychology, "the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior."
So, I'd suggest you first sort out your feelings with some serious self-examination. A pattern I've repeatedly seen play out is the good woman who keeps winding up with "bad boys" because of her own past experiences. Did you have a positive relationship with your father? Was he a man of character who took his responsibilities seriously and treated your mother with respect? Did he encourage you and affirm you as a child? If not, you may be unconsciously drawn to men whose behavior and attitudes repeat the less-than-ideal conditions of your childhood.
I'd suggest working through these questions with qualified professional assistance. Our staff counselors would be happy to listen and help you get started; call 855-771-4537 for a free consultation.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at jimdalyblog.focusonthefamily.com or at Facebook.com/JimDalyFocus.
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