First, I want to make it clear that I don't make anyone do anything. This is my family's culture. It's who we are and helps define us. (I wrote my first ever newspaper column about supper time. You can read that here.)When I say dinner time is important part of how my family connects to one another, I mean it, but I can't make anyone do anything. Dinner time would be insufferable.
Second, television and other electronics aren't an issue because those things don't dominate our lives. We don't have a television to turn on and watch during meal time. Only the Teenager has a cell phone now and she would no more bring that with her to supper than she would her hair brush. I've never told her that. Her phone isn't necessary in the mechanics of eating supper and spending time with her family.
Third, eating separately or in other locations has never been an option in our house. We eat our supper together and we eat around our table. Most often, we are playing some kind of game as well. That is just what we do.
My advice for implementing change in your family's culture is to sit down with everyone and explain why you want to make changes in your meal time habits. Explain why you think supper can be a good thing to experience around a table, free from electronics. Speak your mind and your heart openly and ask everyone to help you make this happen for your family. Maybe you can start slowly with family supper once or twice a week and build up to every night. In the end, remember that you are the mama and they are the kids.
Having a private conversation with your husband about working together as a team to promote this culture in your family might be for the best as well. When we decided to get rid of the idiot box, I had to really do some fancy footwork to get my husband on board. He is an only child who grew up with the television as his constant companion. Once he was able to see that he could decompress with an hour of television online, he was completely fine with letting it go. Compromise with him, cajole him, complain right back to him that you want time with the family you made together every single night.
I want to leave you with this, friend. Once, at an in home consultation, a guest was simply mystified by how my family wanted to spend time together. Not just at meal times, but with the stay-cations and games and movies and walks and outings... This woman asked me a million questions, trying to find out either what was wrong with us or what my secret is. There's plenty wrong with us, so let me just tell you my secret.
I created a family with my husband with the sole purpose of being a family. I didn't make them to ignore them, treat them like a hassle or a waste of time. I don't want to escape them or avoid them. I want to know them, love them, enjoy them, celebrate them every single day. Do we do other stuff together? Shoot, yeah. But supper is the one time every single day that we all come together to be precisely what we are meant to be and that is a family.
I get that you want that same time with your family and I think you are one fabulous mama for trying to make it happen.
Recipe for a good family supper
Play some background music.
Play a game during supper.
Make sure everyone gets a chance to talk about his or her day.
Be present in both mind and body.
Don't set unrealistic expectations for your family.
See what fits your family and do that.
Work to be together.
Don't make any other kind of meal time an option.
That's just how we roll.