School is back in session, and it would be difficult to find a family that’s not busy. Work, sports practices, games, rehearsals, lessons, homework, doctor’s appointments, and countless other activities keep our calendars full. Among all of the busyness, I would argue that it would also be difficult to find a family that doesn’t long for closer relationships and connection.
How can we build deeper relationships with our children and spouses in the midst of a hectic schedule? I believe one vital thing we can do is make our family members feel important and valued. We do that by prioritizing time to really listen to each other.
Everyone’s favorite neighbor, Mr. Rogers said, “There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” Every single person wants to feel valued. Even the most introverted person you know needs to be noticed and acknowledged as a valuable creation of God. When I listen, really listen, to someone’s ideas and thoughts, I automatically show that person he or she has value to me.
You say, “All that sounds great, but who has time to listen? All my kids talk about are Fortnite and memes!” Again, I know we’re busy, so I’d like to make it simple. Keep in mind I hesitate to give parenting advice because I’m in the “deep weeds” of parenting myself. However, I found something that has worked to get us talking through the years.
First, we try to have dinner together as a family as many nights a week as possible. Sometimes that’s seven, and sometimes that’s two. Either way, we make an effort to sit down together around the table. Keep in mind, the average family dinner in America lasts 20 to 30 minutes, so we must be intentional about that time.
In order to give each person at the table their time to be heard, we ask a question, and everyone must answer. Other family members must be quiet and listen (no technology!), and no one is allowed to comment negatively on the response. Where do we get the questions? We started with a glass jar filled with strips of paper that I printed from the web. We have since graduated to joke books (take turns reading a few), Would You Rather books (gross but hilarious), and conversation starter cards I bought at a Christian book store. The other night, my youngest asked me to pull out the jar, so we’ve circled back to where we started.
To be honest, we haven’t done this every single time we sit around the dinner table, but we have created a habit to give each person a turn to share. Both of my children tend to “talk over” each other, so it’s been a great way to practice listening skills. By asking random questions, you may also learn things about your children or spouse that you didn’t know.
I encourage you to just give it a try. Grab a notepad, a plastic bowl, or a jar and write down the following questions (or print them). Fold the papers, stick them in the jar, and set it on your table. The next time you have dinner with your family, let someone pull out one question. It’s that easy! Have fun creating questions or searching the internet for new ones when your jar is empty. (I stick the used ones in another jar and “recycle” them for much later. My children’s answers have changed as they’ve gotten older!)
20 Questions to Start Conversations in a Jar
What was the worst/best part of your day?
If you could have one super power, what would you choose?
Who is someone you look up to?
If you could only eat one food for a year, what would you eat?
If you could be any character in a movie or TV show, who would you be?
Which do you like better, the mountains or the beach? Why?
Would you rather be really tall like a giant or tiny like a mouse? Why?
Would you rather travel to the bottom of the ocean or to space? Why?
Share a time you made a good choice with your actions.
If you could visit any imaginary place, where would you go? Who would you take with you?
Would you rather be really strong or really fast?
Do you think your name suits you? If you could change your name, what would you call yourself?
What is your favorite exercise?
What would you do if you could camp out in your favorite store for one night?
Share a time when you were kind to another person. How did it make you feel?
What do you think makes someone cool?
What three words describe our family?
What is your favorite type of weather?
What is your favorite toy or keepsake? Why?
What is the best vacation or activity we’ve done as a family?
Now go get those conversations started!