Today’s Table Talk is by our friend and resident manner expert, Ruth Meek.  She always manages to not only provide terrific advice on the disappearing art of social graces, but also to add a power punch on the “why”.  I hope you enjoy her guest blog today.  Also, remember that Ruth is always available if you want to shoot her a question.  She’s one of our wonderful Ironing Board advisers. 

Thanks, Ruth.  … and thanks for walking the road with me. 

“Touchstone Magazine” carried an article in February of 2010, Wisdom from the Table, by Patrick Henry Reardon.  In a scholarly way Reardon describes what every mother already knows: Far more is dispensed at the family dinner table than food.

Mr. Reardon thinks that the quest for wisdom commences as one learns how to eat. His thesis states: The most basic steps towards virtue are mastered at the family table; character begins with etiquette.

“It is at home (domus) that human beings are literally – “domesticated.”  During meals children increase, not only “in stature,” but also “in wisdom” (Luke 2:52).  Here they acquire those patterns of affability, restraint, courtesy, social dependence and cultivated joy that prepare them for a wise life in a larger world.”

“In acquiring table discipline – which pertains to language and posture as well as to eating – young human beings are instructed in the simple pleasures of what is called “conviviality.” This means, “living in common.”  It is at meals that body, soul and mind is nourished.  It is largely from eating with the family that helpful information is conveyed and the foundational lines of character are formed.”

I would add to Mr. Reardon’s remarks that the family dinner table is also where the art of conversation is developed.  In the casual setting of family meals, conversational skills are naturally modeled by the adults and absorbed by the children.

Learning is caught, not taught.  At the table, the baton of family values – including conversational skills and table manners – are informally passed on.  A cell phone free dinner around the table (not barstools at the counter) provides the perfect place for practicing those skills necessary for a successful life in polite society.

Sadly, the pace and priorities of many families dictate that most meals are hurriedly eaten around the TV, not the table; the schedule set by extracurricular calendars.  And with the ‘advance’ of personal computers/cell phones, our kids seem far more interested in text conversations with those not at the table than in conversations with those that are.

As our children spend more and more time with media they seem less and less able to carry on casual conversations.  Add to this fewer family meals together and it’s is easy to see why their conversational skills are diminishing.

May I encourage you this summer, to try and re-institute the family dinner hour.  Take advantage of the longer, less hurried days to plan for meals at home together. These are wonderful opportunities to practice casual conversation as well as table etiquette.

Try this for keeping it fun: Label an empty glass jar, “Swine Fine”.  Set a reasonable penalty amount and give the children permission to politely point out the bad manners of their siblings, and parents.  The offending family member must pay the fine.  The money is to be used at a later date for a shared present for all.

Rather than overwhelm them with all the fine points of etiquette, choose two or three a week and work on those.  Share with your kids the reasons behind the rules; they will be much more apt to comply. Sharing the moral reasons for rules also give you an opportunity to train the heart (character) of your child, not just regulate his behavior. Here are two examples:

No eating until the blessing has been said. The simple act of starting each meal with gratitude to God preaches volumes.  It establishes God as the giver of daily provision (also makes it harder for children to complain about the food).  Praying before each meal creates natural, regular opportunities to model prayer for children and to give them practice praying. Waiting also develops self-discipline.  To wait without anxiety requires patience, that kind of patience is only developed as it is required and tested.

No eating until the hostess (Mom) has picked up her fork.  Again, waiting develops self-control.  Waiting for Mom in particular shows respect for her authority and consideration of her. Plus, as kids are required to wait, it can cultivate a spirit of helpfulness and teamwork. They soon figure out that if they help Mom get everything ready, they get to eat faster! (I call this working with their sin nature.)

For those of you looking for a fun way to teach table manners to your kids, my daughters and I will be hosting etiquette camps again this summer.  Please email me for more info

Remember: pass to the right, pass the salt & pepper together, and “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ.”  Philippians 1:27

Ruth Meek, Redeeming Ministries, June 2010Ruth Meek ht=”100″ src=”” style=”border-bottom-width: 0px; border-color: initial; border-left-width: 0px; border-right-width: 0px; border-style: initial; border-top-width: 0px; margin-bottom: 0px; margin-left: 0px; margin-right: 0px; margin-top: 0px; padding-bottom: 0px; padding-left: 0px; padding-right: 10px; padding-top: 0px; text-align: left; vertical-align: top;” width=”90″ />

Ruth Meek, founder of Redeeming Ministries, is a Realtor, Etiquette Coach,mother of four, and mentor to many. She is a highly sought after speaker (and soon to be author) on issues pertaining to: reclaiming Christmas, the benefits of silence, and intimacy with husbands.  Ruth is a native of Jackson, MS; she has lived in Dallas for 30 years. Ruth and Stephen have been happily married for 25 years.  The Meek family are active charter members of Park Cities Presbyterian Church.

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