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Have fun with these conversation starters as you connect with your family by chatting it up with each other using these silly and serious questions!

Topic 1: Family

  1.  Describe our family in one word.
  2.  What is your favorite family memory?
  3.  What is your most memorable family holiday?
  4.  The official food of our family would be…
  5. If our family had a sponsorship with a company or organization, who would sponsor our family?
  6.  Our family receives an all-expense-paid trip to anywhere for a week. But we must all agree on the location. Where do we go?
  7.  Besides people or pets, what is our family’s most prized possession?
  8.  If you could change one thing about our family, what would it be?
  9. If our family had to enter a talent competition, what talent gives our family the best chance to win?
  10. What is the BEST part of our family?

Topic 2: Would You Rather…

  1. Spend the night in a supposedly haunted house or camp out in a cemetery?  
  2. Be stranded on an island with someone you can’t stand or be stranded by yourself?
  3. Pet a snake or pet a rat?
  4. Go without brushing your teeth or go without a shower for a month?
  5. Live with someone who doesn’t brush or someone who doesn’t shower?
  6. Read people’s minds or see into the future?
  7. Not be able to watch tv/play video games or go to bed at 6PM for a month?
  8. No wi-fi/cellular service or no pizza for the rest of your life?
  9. Have a family chef or a family housekeeper?
  10. Accidentally fart or burp loudly at a restaurant?

Topic 3: Which Is Better & Why?

  1. Cake or Pie?
  2. Water Park or Amusement Park?
  3. Waffles or Pancakes?
  4. Water, Sport/Energy Drink, or Soda?
  5. Family Game Night or Family Movie Night?
  6. Driving or Flying?
  7. Going to a lake or Going to the Ocean?
  8. Leftovers for Breakfast or Breakfast for Dinner?
  9. Read the Book or Watch the Movie?
  10. Shopping for Shoes or Shopping for Clothes?

Topic 4: All About Mom and Dad

  1. What kind of student were you in school?
  2. We have to make a fast getaway! Who do we want driving—Mom or Dad?
  3. New nicknames for Mom and Dad are…?
  4. What do you appreciate the most about Mom?
  5. What do you appreciate the most about Dad?
  6. Earliest memory of your mom?
  7. Earliest memory of your dad?
  8. When have your parent(s) totally embarrassed you?
  9. If you really want something, who do you go to, Mom or Dad? 
  10. Funniest memory about Mom/Dad is…?

Topic 5: All About The Kids

  1. If your kids could go anywhere on vacation where would they want to go?
  2. What are your kid’s “superpowers?”
  3. When have your kids surprised you in a good way?
  4. What chores do your kids hate the most?
  5. What is one house rule your kids would want to change the most?
  6. Your kids have a couple of hours of free time, what do they do?
  7. What are your kids most afraid of?
  8. Name as many of your kids’ friends as you can.
  9. What are your kids’ “spirit animals?”
  10. What are your favorite moments with your kids?

Topic 6: Nothing But The Best

  1. Holiday?
  2. You’ve ever felt?
  3. Birthday?
  4. Team/group/club you’ve been a part of?
  5. Clothes you’ve ever worn?
  6. Song you’ve ever heard?
  7. Dance you’ve ever seen?
  8. Thing you’ve ever seen someone do for someone else?
  9. Gift you’ve ever received?
  10. Family vacation?

Topic 7: The Absolute Worst

What’s the worst…

  1. Job you could ever have?
  2. Movie you’ve ever seen?
  3. Song you’ve ever heard?
  4. Video game you’ve ever played?
  5. Grade you’ve ever gotten?
  6. Joke you’ve ever heard?
  7. Book you’ve ever read?
  8. Thing you’ve ever eaten?
  9. You’ve ever felt?
  10. Restaurant our family has eaten at?

Topic 8: Money

  1. You have only $50 and we’re going to Walmart. What will you buy?
  2. You have $1,000 to make the world a better place. What do you do with it?
  3. What is the most valuable thing you own?
  4. House is burning; you can only get one thing. What do you get?
  5. Name one thing important to you which money can’t buy?
  6. One thing you’ve bought that you wish you could take back and get a refund?
  7. Name one thing you would like to save money to buy?
  8. Name one thing you would like to save money to do?
  9. If you had to sell $100 worth of your belongings, what would you sell?
  10. You have only $1. What are you going to spend it on?

Topic 9: Wildcard 

  1. Favorite season of the year? Why?
  2. Nicest thing you have ever done for someone?
  3. If you could be any animal for a day, what animal would be?
  4. Your dream job would be…?
  5. Why are french fries “French?”
  6. Would you rather run away from a bear through mud or swim away from a shark in maple syrup?
  7. Would you rather play catch with an egg or play frisbee with a frozen fish?
  8. Name a natural food that is blue. (Not “blueberries” or candy!) I know, right?!
  9. What time period would you like to have lived in—the wild west or medieval times?
  10. Win a championship in a team sport or an individual sport? What sport?

Topic 10: The Future

  1. One invention that needs to be invented? Be “uninvented?”
  2. Where would you go if the end of the world were coming?
  3. Zombie Apocalypse! What do you do?
  4. Will the world be a better or worse place in 20 years? Why?
  5. How will people travel in the year 2120?
  6. For each member of the family: Most Likely To ______? Why?
  7. What’s popular now that won’t be popular at all in 5 years? 
  8. How will people communicate with someone they’re not face to face with in 20 years? 
  9. In 30 years, where will you live? What will be your job? Will you have a family? What will you do for fun? 
  10. Do you look toward the future more with worry or anticipation? Why?

25 Holiday Conversation Starters for the Whole Family

These ideas make it easy to connect while you talk!

Whether you’re together or apart this year, these holiday conversation starters are sure to spark some joy and help you get to know each other better.

Now go get your party started!

  1. In your opinion, what would the ultimate winter wonderland look like?
  2. What is your favorite Christmas scent?
  3. What is the single most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
  4. If time were not a concern and you had plenty of money, how would you decorate the outside of your home?
  5. Candy canes, of course, are the traditional candy of Christmas. If you could have your way, what would be the official candy of Christmas?
  6. You have a beautiful 50-foot pine tree in your front yard that you are allowed to decorate with only one color of lights. Which color would you choose?
  7. Of course, red and green are the traditional colors of Christmas. What two other colors do you think could—or should—become the standard for the season?
  8. At Christmastime, which do you honestly enjoy more—giving or receiving?
  9. What is the first Christmas you can remember? What do you remember about it?
  10. Do you have any ethnic traditions that you honor during the Christmas season?
  11. In your opinion, what word(s) would best complete the following phrase: “‘Tis the season to be …”?
  12. What holiday food do you enjoy the most?
  13. Which event or aspect of the Christmas season do you look forward to most of all?
  14. If snow could fall in any flavor, what flavor would you choose?
  15. What makes a Christmas gift really special to you?
  16. If you could Christmas shop until you drop in any one store, which store would you choose?
  17. What do you typically do the day after Christmas?
  18. If you could indulge in only one type of cookie this holiday season, which cookie would you be eating a lot of?
  19. If you could invite any famous person to your house for Christmas dinner, whom would you ask?
  20. No other time of the year affords such a great opportunity to enjoy good food and drink. In your opinion, what is the best taste the Christmas season has to offer?
  21. What would be the ideal way for you to spend Christmas Eve?
  22. On a scale of one to ten (with one being very relaxing and ten being very stressful), how stressful is the holiday season for you?
  23. What brought you joy this year?
  24. If you could spend Christmas anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
  25. What is your favorite Christmas movie?

Related blogs:

100 CONVERSATION STARTERS TO INCREASE YOUR FAMILY’S CONNECTEDNESS

A Family’s Guide To Mindfulness

Lessen the stress and bring on the joy!

The past year was crazy. Finances. Family. Working from home. Homeschooling. Navigating a pandemic. Stress. Anxiety. Depression. The present is hard. The future is uncertain. What happened to our family? What will happen next?

Rarely are our minds engaged in what is going on right now. 

Our attention is so focused on what happened yesterday or what will happen tomorrow—we miss the right now. Sometimes we get jarred out of the present by our schedules, cellphones, and to-do lists. We often fail to stop and savor what we are doing with the people we are doing it with. 

We aren’t “in” the moment if we’re not being mindful in our family. As a family, you might be together, but you don’t connect. 

Mindless. 

How do you avoid mindlessly running from one thing to the next—both physically and especially mentally? How do you keep the past and the future from creating stress and anxiety in your family’s present? Stay connected to each other? How do you promote the mental skills needed to keep sharp and “in” the moment with your family? How do you help your family avoid these stress and anxiety pitfalls and better appreciate the time you have with each other? 

Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present, aware of where you are and what you’re doing. The benefit is a more focused life with less bad stress and an increased ability to enjoy and connect with your family at a given moment. 

Sounds simple, right? Well, it is, and it isn’t. It takes practice. If you’re like most people out there, you’ve trained yourself to put your mind in other places besides the present. And that, of course, affects your family. 


Fortunately, practicing mindfulness in your family isn’t rocket science. There are several practices a family can do together to improve mindfulness. Here are just a few: 

Mindful walking.

This can be practiced in your neighborhood, on a trail, or anywhere you can walk together. Coach your family to walk just a little slower than you usually walk. Use all of your senses to take in what’s around you. Smell the air. Listen to the sounds and look for sights that you might usually pass up. Feel the ground beneath your feet. 

Help your kids to name what they’re experiencing: I see a bird’s nest in the tree! I can smell flowers blooming! I hear the crickets chirping! The ground feels rocky under my feet! You don’t have to do this for your entire walk for it to be good practice; make it a practice once a week as part of where you walk. 

Mindful breathing.

This is a great exercise, especially if you or your child is feeling anxious. The idea is to focus on your breathing. There are many mindful breathing techniques out there. I like the 4-7-8 technique. Sit comfortably with a straight spine and neck. As you inhale, count to 4 in your mind. Hold your breath for 7 seconds. Then exhale, counting to 8, making a whoosh sound. 

Be aware of your breath, the feeling of air entering and exiting your lungs. If it’s difficult to hold your breath for that long, speed up the counts in your head, but keep the same 4-7-8 ratio of time. 

Mindful eating.

The idea is to be aware of the present by savoring food with all of your senses. For instance, if you’re about to eat a potato chip, notice how it feels in your hands (brittle, crumbly), how it smells (salty, baked), how it looks (the shape, the crumbs, the ridges), how it sounds in your hand and as you eat it (crunchy), and obviously, how it tastes (salty, vinegary, cheesy). 

This practice requires you to slow down considerably when eating (which isn’t a bad thing with kids). Practice it using all kinds of foods, such as hard candy, bread, or a spoonful of honey. 

Related: 5 Ways to Be More Present When Talking to Someone

Life is too short to have our minds anywhere else other than on what is going on at the moment with the people we’re with. Practicing mindfulness can help your family experience less stress and tension and focus more on the joy of being together. It doesn’t take much to exercise mindfulness in your daily family life. Take one of these exercises and try them out with your family this week. You will enjoy being in the moment with the ones you love the most. 

Sound interesting? Find More Resources On Family Mindfulness:

Raising the Mindful Family

Practicing Mindfulness As a Family

How Mindfulness Can Change Your Family, Community, and Life

Have fun with these conversation starters as you connect with your family by chatting it up with each other with these silly and serious questions!

Topic 1: Family

  1.  Describe our family in one word.
  2.  What is your favorite family memory?
  3.  What is your most memorable family holiday?
  4.  The official food of our family would be…
  5. If our family had a sponsorship with a company or organization, who would sponsor our family?
  6.  Our family receives an all-expense-paid trip to anywhere for a week. But we must all agree on the location. Where do we go?
  7.  Besides people or pets, what is our family’s most prized possession?
  8.  If you could change one thing about our family, what would it be?
  9. If our family had to enter a talent competition, what talent gives our family the best chance to win?
  10. What is the BEST part of our family?

Topic 2: Would You Rather…

  1. Spend the night in a supposedly haunted house or camp out in a cemetery?  
  2. Be stranded on an island with someone you can’t stand or be stranded by yourself?
  3. Pet a snake or pet a rat?
  4. Go without brushing your teeth or go without a shower for a month?
  5. Live with someone who doesn’t brush or someone who doesn’t shower?
  6. Read people’s minds or see into the future?
  7. Not be able to watch tv/play video games or go to bed at 6PM for a month?
  8. No wi-fi/cellular service or no pizza for the rest of your life?
  9. Have a family chef or a family housekeeper?
  10. Accidentally fart or burp loudly at a restaurant?

Topic 3: Which Is Better & Why?

  1. Cake or Pie?
  2. Water Park or Amusement Park?
  3. Waffles or Pancakes?
  4. Water, Sport/Energy Drink, or Soda?
  5. Family Game Night or Family Movie Night?
  6. Driving or Flying?
  7. Going to a lake or Going to the Ocean?
  8. Leftovers for Breakfast or Breakfast for Dinner?
  9. Read the Book or Watch the Movie?
  10. Shopping for Shoes or Shopping for Clothes?

Topic 4: All About Mom and Dad

  1. What kind of student were you in school?
  2. We have to make a fast getaway! Who do we want driving—Mom or Dad?
  3. New nicknames for Mom and Dad are…?
  4. What do you appreciate the most about Mom?
  5. What do you appreciate the most about Dad?
  6. Earliest memory of your mom?
  7. Earliest memory of your dad?
  8. When have your parent(s) totally embarrassed you?
  9. If you really want something, who do you go to, Mom or Dad? 
  10. Funniest memory about Mom/Dad is…?

Topic 5: All About The Kids

  1. If your kids could go anywhere on vacation where would they want to go?
  2. What are your kid’s “superpowers?”
  3. When have your kids surprised you in a good way?
  4. What chores do your kids hate the most?
  5. What is one house rule your kids would want to change the most?
  6. Your kids have a couple of hours of free time, what do they do?
  7. What are your kids most afraid of?
  8. Name as many of your kids’ friends as you can.
  9. What are your kids’ “spirit animals?”
  10. What are your favorite moments with your kids?

Topic 6: Nothing But The Best

  1. Holiday?
  2. You’ve ever felt?
  3. Birthday?
  4. Team/group/club you’ve been a part of?
  5. Clothes you’ve ever worn?
  6. Song you’ve ever heard?
  7. Dance you’ve ever seen?
  8. Thing you’ve ever seen someone do for someone else?
  9. Gift you’ve ever received?
  10. Family vacation?

Topic 7: The Absolute Worst

What’s the worst…

  1. Job you could ever have?
  2. Movie you’ve ever seen?
  3. Song you’ve ever heard?
  4. Video game you’ve ever played?
  5. Grade you’ve ever gotten?
  6. Joke you’ve ever heard?
  7. Book you’ve ever read?
  8. Thing you’ve ever eaten?
  9. You’ve ever felt?
  10. Restaurant our family has eaten at?

Topic 8: Money

  1. You have only $50 and we’re going to Walmart. What will you buy?
  2. You have $1,000 to make the world a better place. What do you do with it?
  3. What is the most valuable thing you own?
  4. House is burning; you can only get one thing. What do you get?
  5. Name one thing important to you which money can’t buy?
  6. One thing you’ve bought that you wish you could take back and get a refund?
  7. Name one thing you would like to save money to buy?
  8. Name one thing you would like to save money to do?
  9. If you had to sell $100 worth of your belongings, what would you sell?
  10. You have only $1. What are you going to spend it on?

Topic 9: Wildcard 

  1. Favorite season of the year? Why?
  2. Nicest thing you have ever done for someone?
  3. If you could be any animal for a day, what animal would be?
  4. Your dream job would be…?
  5. Why are french fries “French?”
  6. Would you rather run away from a bear through mud or swim away from a shark in maple syrup?
  7. Would you rather play catch with an egg or play frisbee with a frozen fish?
  8. Name a natural food that is blue. (Not “blueberries” or candy!) I know, right?!
  9. What time period would you like to have lived in—the wild west or medieval times?
  10. Win a championship in a team sport or an individual sport? What sport?

Topic 10: The Future

  1. One invention that needs to be invented? Be “uninvented?”
  2. Where would you go if the end of the world were coming?
  3. Zombie Apocalypse! What do you do?
  4. Will the world be a better or worse place in 20 years? Why?
  5. How will people travel in the year 2120?
  6. For each member of the family: Most Likely To ______? Why?
  7. What’s popular now that won’t be popular at all in 5 years? 
  8. How will people communicate with someone they’re not face to face with in 20 years? 
  9. In 30 years, where will you live? What will be your job? Will you have a family? What will you do for fun? 
  10. Do you look toward the future more with worry or anticipation? Why?

In light of our current events and the chaos and disruptions they’ve brought, I felt the need to call a good, old-fashioned family meeting about COVID-19! It had been a while, but we had a lot of new important things to talk about—new work situations, school cancellations, health concerns, and how our family was going to navigate these unique circumstances.

Once everyone gathered around in the living room, several things were part of this particular meeting:

  • I asked how everyone was doing. How was everyone feeling- physically and emotionally? My colleague wrote a great blog about taking your family’s “temperature.”
  • I shared information from the CDC about the coronavirus, how it’s transmitted, risks of exposure, symptoms of infection, and recommended precautions to take. I kept a calm tone and stuck to the facts. Then I allowed room for them to share what they had already heard and where they heard it. We talked about what information sources were trustworthy. (I have teens and up. Adjust accordingly for your children.)
  • I went over some new family routines and rules that would be in place for a while. No friends over right now. Who was responsible for sanitizing door knobs, appliance handles, remotes, light switches, etc., and on what days. What the schoolwork schedule would look like. We talked about how we would be having more Family Movie and Game Nights!
  • I allowed space for questions and encouraged everyone to be real about their reactions and suggestions. They had some ideas way better than mine!
  • I emphasized that this was going to pass and we would seize the opportunity these new obstacles provided- to spend more time together as a family, to learn new things, and to invest time in the things we always say we wish we had the time to do. We are a team and a fun team!
  • We talked about how “this” was not all about us and how we needed to keep our eyes open for creative opportunities to help other people.
  • Remember: This is opening a dialogue to what will be an ongoing conversation.

Sure, this meeting was necessary because of a set of new, unique circumstances, but family meetings should be a regular part of your family culture. Keep them going!

General Family Meeting Tips:

  1. Keep them positive and fun.
  2. Try to keep everyone involved.
  3. Keep them relevant. (Nothing worse than a meeting that feels unnecessary.)
  4. Keep them a brief but consistent part of your family life.

Every family is different so be sensitive to your specific family needs as you consider these suggestions. Be ready to adjust when necessary.

  • Start them with something fun that gets everyone talking like a silly question like, “What superpower would you want and why?” or “What vegetable would you like to disappear forever?” Talking people are more likely to keep talking.
  • Use them to keep everyone on the same page. What was the best part of last week for you? What are you looking forward to this week?
  • Meetings emphasize family interdependence. They help the family to understand each individual member and help each individual to understand their connection to the family. Let family members put things on the agenda. Let them lead.
  • This is the time to address issues, schedules, current events, and even finances in an appropriate way. This is the time to celebrate grades, sports wins, recitals, and character growth you are witnessing as a parent—NOT a time to embarrass anyone or point out individual mistakes or problems. 
  • Be creative! You can hold family meetings at a pizza place (just not during social distancing, of course!), during a board or card game, or throughout a car ride. No matter what—end with some fun!

Since the family was all together in one place, we capitalized on this opportunity to transition from serious real-world problems into an incredibly competitive, very fun, homemade three-point shooting contest using a pot from the kitchen, a chair, and some paper wads. Then we blasted walkout music for each player. Meeting adjourned!

Image from Pexels.com

Most mornings, we start our day by waking up with little time to spare. Get dressed, shower, wake up the kids, get them dressed, tell them to make up their beds, brush their teeth, comb their hair, brush my hair, grab their things, grab my things, fix a cup of coffee, get ready to leave, (Oops, I forgot to brush my own teeth!), brush my teeth, then hop in the car five minutes later than I needed to! Drop the kids off at school or the bus stop, stop by Starbucks, head to the office hoping I didn’t forget that I have an 8:00 appointment. Sound familiar?

Guess what, while we’re practicing social distancing, here’s the chance to create a new family norm that is less focused on punctuality and more focused on how to start the day the way you want as a family. As our lives have changed due to the pandemic, we can intentionally do some things differently to set the whole family in the same direction for the day.

Here’s one change that can make a HUGE difference.

Family Breakfast Time. Don’t let food be a hindrance, but let’s address food first. Breakfast can be anything from sitting together to drink a beverage, to toast with jelly, all the way up to to the big time—pancakes, eggs, fruit, and OJ.  Focus on the words “Family” and “Time.” Think of the word breakfast as the important time of the day. It’s before you launch into your “daily work/school” time.

Why is this so beneficial? Studies show the benefits of having regular family meals together. Benefits, particularly for children, include better eating habits, feeling more connected, increased communication skills, and better self-esteem. They also include being less likely to develop eating disorders, engage in risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking habits, or to become depressed. Eating together helps you develop the lifelong bonds that strengthen your family and help you make it through tough times.

Set the tone for the day. This is the perfect time to set expectations for the day. Everyone can know what is expected of them and what to expect from you. We tend to receive information better when we’re eating. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a minute-by-minute schedule but just having a set time to explain the intended flow of the day while we’re eating and all together can provide some predictability for everyone. The kids will know that there will be some downtime, playtime, work time, quiet time, eating time, etc.

Family Temperature Check. I go into further detail about this in another blog. Ultimately, this is a good time to find out if anyone just plain and simple woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning or is having a very difficult time emotionally dealing with the fact that we’re all stuck in the house together all day every day for the foreseeable future.

Give everyone a common starting point. Just like every football team huddles before running the next play and then proceeds to their position to start the play, the family huddles at breakfast and then starts the next play. As a parent, we have the power to send the family to their next play with enthusiasm or with dread. Even if you’re the only one with the positive energy, that’s OK, be that parent who the kids roll their eyes at and say, “Dad, you’re just over the top.” They’re going to say it with a smile on their face and move on after breakfast thinking not about the dread of being home all day yet again, but how silly their parents are. 

Tips: If you decide to have a family breakfast on a regular basis, here are some tips.

  1. Enlist your children to help with breakfast. Set the table with dishes, cups, silverware, condiments, whatever is age-appropriate. After all, they’re eating, too. Don’t become their servant. If age-appropriate, let them prepare some, if not all of the food.
  2. Keep it simple, but only if you want to. Don’t feel stressed that you have to pull out the pots and pans. Cereal and juice are fine. Pop-Tarts and water are fine. An apple is fine. However…
  3. Go all out some mornings just because! Waffles, pancakes, omelets, biscuits. You have the time now. If you start your work and school day a little later, since everyone is quarantined, it’s OK. That’s the opportunity here. Now, you don’t have to leave by 7:45 to miss the traffic and miss sitting in the long drop-off line. (Teach your children how to make some of these items. Before long, they may do it for you.)
  4. Get started. When you get up, don’t spend hours procrastinating about getting your day started just because you are working from home. Breakfast becomes the high point of the morning. Get into a rhythm and when everyone wakes up, announce that we will have breakfast in ___ minutes so that everyone is moving toward breakfast. That becomes our first destination for the day. For some people, simply having a set time for breakfast may be the way to go.
  5. Enlist children to help clean up following breakfast. Wash dishes, load dishwasher, clean the table, sweep the floor, and put away any extra food. Be done
  6. Be real. This does not mean your day will go perfectly or even smoothly if you start it well. This helps you to maintain a healthy relationship when things do get rocky.

Take advantage of this opportunity. I love to eat. Lots of us do. I love my wife and my kids (all 7 of them). Doing what I love to do with the people I love should be the formula for connection and peace in the midst of this chaos.

Image from Pexels.com

Ready to take a short family connectedness quiz?

  1. Who is your child’s favorite teacher of all time?
  2. What is your spouse’s favorite thing to do in his/her spare time?
  3. What is your child’s favorite meal?
  4. Given the opportunity for a night out, how would your spouse prefer to spend the evening?
  5. What person outside the family has most influenced your child’s life?
  6. What accomplishment is your child most proud of?
  7. If money were no object, what one thing would your spouse most want to purchase?
  8. What household chore does your spouse dislike the most?
  9. Who is your child’s hero?
  10. What makes your spouse feel truly loved?

Now, go check out your answers to see how close you were to getting them right. Being truly connected to your family is the only way to know all the answers to these questions.

“From a cultural standpoint, the connections that people have with one another and through social networks have been shown to improve the mental, physical and spiritual health of individuals,” said Christopher Brown, anthropologist and president of the National Fatherhood Initiative. “There is something that happens physiologically when people are connected, which is why people do better when they are involved in healthy relationships with others.”

One of the most powerful relationships is between a parent and child. Studies show that parents are the first and most important teachers of children. Kids thrive when they can depend on a reliable parent when they need to talk, when they want input, when they need a hug, or want assurance that life will work out.

Research from the University of Michigan found that the connectedness that takes place during frequent meal times with the family was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behavioral problems, even better than time spent studying or in a faith setting.

Experts agree that:

  • Conversation at the dinner table shows to increase children’s mental and verbal abilities;
  • Eating together promotes good communication, and strengthens family bonds and relationships;
  • Families who regularly eat together have more cohesion and unity; and
  • Family meals give children a sense of security.

Connections count every day of the year. If you didn’t do so well with the quiz above, this could be a great opportunity for you to re-evaluate how you connect in your home.

This article originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on November 18, 2018. Click here to read the entire article.

In November 2011, Sarah Smiley’s husband, Dustin, was preparing to leave his family for a 13-month military deployment. Before he left, his three sons, Ford (10), Owen (8) and Lindell (4) said that they would be sad to see their dad’s empty chair at the dinner table. As he was making preparations to leave, Dustin encouraged his wife to invite folks over for dinner periodically.

Having made it through two of her husband’s deployments in 2001 and 2003, Smiley knew that dinner time could be a lonely time for the military family. She realized that her husband was probably right about inviting people over for dinner. Yet, she found herself questioning how she would add one more thing to her already full plate.

The idea of making sure the house was spotless and that the boys behaved well – then cooking something great for dinner – seemed overwhelming.

After months of persistence from her husband, Sarah decided to float the idea past her boys about inviting people to fill her husband’s seat at the table. During one of their Skype sessions, Dustin asked the boys who they would invite to dinner if their mom did weekly dinners.

“My teacher!” said Lindell.

“Maybe the Mayor,” said Owen.

Ford said he had thought about asking Senator Susan Collins since he was studying government in class.

Ford extended an invitation to Senator Collins to join his family for dinner, and to their surprise, she accepted. This turned out to be the launch of Dinner with the Smileys, a year of weekly dinners with interesting people that ultimately led Sarah, who is a syndicated columnist and author, to write the book, Dinner with the Smileys: One Military Family, One Year of Heroes, and Lessons for a Lifetime.

The book chronicles their experience as Sarah holds nothing back and doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat the year without her husband. You will be laughing and crying as she describes the very real and sometimes messy moments deployment brings.

For example, shortly after Ford extended the invitation to the senator, he decided that was a big mistake. When people started asking questions, it began to feel formal and full of expectations instead of fun. Sarah was not going to renege on the invitation; however she did decide the dinners would be on the boy’s terms. This meant casual, no expectations, no pressure and no dress-up.

Although there were moments Sarah questioned what she had done, she was ultimately thankful she put forth the effort during her husband’s deployment.  She endured arguments with her tween son, a basement incident involving raw sewage, along with tears from missing her husband. She also had the joy of watching her boys do things they probably would not have done under different circumstances. Plus, the boys will never forget the friendships and memories made.

The Smileys learned lessons through this experience that are too numerous to mention. They’re too rich not to share, though – thus the book is a must-read.

Here’s to all the moms out there who make it work no matter the circumstances.