Once upon a time, the dinner hour was sacred. Mom, Dad and kids sat together at a given hour, passed the food to each other, ate, chewed and talked.
These days, many family members pass each other like ships in the night, barely pausing to scarf down a microwaved meal, never mind any conversation.
As a result, when we do sit down, our kids’ manners are often lacking — or perhaps are entirely nonexistent.
Do your kids know what table manners are? Do they even know where to find the dining table? As dinner time goes, so goes the family.
If your experience at mealtime involves shouting, clashing silverware and, God forbid, food slinging, you must take back control of your corner of civilization and make it civil — for yourself, your family and your kids’ futures.
Here are a few commandments to help restore order to the dinner table (good for printing and posting on the kitchen wall, too!).
1: Do not arrive at the table in various states of undress. Reasonable clothing is required. Clothing should be (relatively) clean and dry, as should hands and face. No swimsuits, please. No noticeable underwear. No bare chests. No bare midriffs. No bare anything, except your head and your hands.
2: Do not begin eating until all others are seated. Be aware of others. And look around: Does everyone have a place setting — even if it's just a paper plate and plastic utensils — in front on them? If so, allow the senior woman at the table to choose her food first. Children, FYI: You are never the senior woman.
3: Do not forget your manners. Remember to say "please," "thank you," and "you're welcome." And most of all, before digging in, pause for a moment to say a word of grace to God — and to thank whomever is providing the meal for you. Chances are, on many weeknights, it wasn't easy.
4: Do not talk with food in your mouth. Do not chew with your mouth open, either. Do not speak over adults when they are talking. Do not argue with siblings at the table. Do not spit.
5: Do not eat like a caveman. There shall be no mouth-to-plate intake of food in caveman-like fashion. Utensils shall come to the mouth, deliver the goods, and find their way back to the plate, landing with a slight ting, not a violent collision.
6: Do not reach (this is not boarding school). No little arms should be stretched across another human to grab a food bowl, a condiment or a chicken leg. This is a no go. Ask politely to have something passed to you, and respond accordingly if someone asks you the same thing.
7: Do not make bodily noises. This should go without saying — yet it needs to be said. No audible noises from any body part are allowed at the table. And if it does accidentally happen, it should never, ever be followed by a giggle or a tee-hee.
8: Do not talk on a cellphone or text with friends. Leave the phone somewhere else. That means not in your lap, not in a pocket, and not hidden underneath a napkin. It should not be in the dining room or kitchen, period. It should be far, far away from the family meal. Have a little respect. The phone is not physically attached to you for a reason.
9: Do not sit there like a stone. Dinner IS the time for conversation. You are a human being. When you're asked a polite question by a caring family member, answer in a polite manner — or forfeit dessert (or electronic time).
10: Do not argue. While the dinner hour is the time for conversation, it is absolutely NOT the time to pick a fight with one's annoying little sibling. As above, any violation shall result in revoked privileges.
11: Do not leave the table until excused. Small humans who are dependent on income-earning adults shall not leave the table unless politely dismissed. The right request is, "May I please be excused?" Period.
12: Do not leave the room unless you help out. When everyone is finished and you've been excused, child shall not merely slink off to the nearest electronic device. He or she should be asking this key question: "May I take your plate?" If the adult indicates yes, then the child shall wipe off the scraps and place plates in the sink or dishwasher, cheerfully and without sass.
Upon closer inspection, you may discover that the above dinner commandments are, in fact, not just for children.
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