Open Letter To My Daughter (5)

by Judy Bowles

Dear Daughter,

Sometime ago I promised my input on family mealtimes… it has been buzzing around in my head for months and months now, but after reading a book on "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader"… I just had to get my thoughts down on paper.

You see, out in society there is a great dearth of leadership…either in government or in commerce and multi-millions of pounds are spent on training people for such roles….when in reality the much-maligned mother and housewife is involved in leadership training day in and day out… and one of her most valuable opportunities is… you’ve guessed it… the dinner table!

OK… what thoughts do the words "the dinner table" bring to mind? Feeding the Five Thousand… or maybe The Charge of the Light Brigade?? Family Mealtimes. Yes, they can be one of the most stressful times of the day, unfortunately. All those hours spent shopping, worrying about nutritional needs, preparing, cooking, serving… and it all ends in squabbles! And you ask yourself… is it really worth it??

Now, trust me, Estelle, I know only too well the longing at the end of the day to just "get away from it all", to grab a bit of my own space (I didn’t soak in the bath each night because I was a cleanliness freak – the bathroom was the only room in the house with a lock on the door!). I know the temptation to let the kids just grab a meal and eat in their rooms, or in front of the TV while you read your magazine in peace… (Dad and I have just watched a programme on TV where a family of 4 had seven TV’s between them… don’t tell me they ate together!) But, if you think about it… what is the first event we will "hit" as spirit beings? A Wedding Feast! Where was Christ when He performed His first miracle? At a wedding! What did He do shortly after His resurrection? He cooked His disciples a meal! God loves social events… throughout the Bible, so many important incidents happened around a meal table. That should really tell us something right there… there is more to food than just filling an empty tummy!

On reading this book it struck me that each day you young mums are instilling invaluable leadership traits into your little ones… probably without you even realising it!

For instance, the second chapter of "The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader" points out the importance of charisma and how to develop it. Charisma is how we deal with others – how we interact with, encourage, and stimulate others to follow our lead.

Ok – so what has "Elbows off the table, eat up your broccoli, and stop hitting your sister" got to do with developing these little leaders? Bear with me…

Leaders love life – "accentuate the positive"

Now this can be a hard one………you’ve had one of the worst days for a long time. You have been up all night with Isabel teething, Catherine and JJ woke at 5.30, rarin’ to go. Its been raining since 5.35am non-stop. The washing machine has flooded, the dishwasher is making a very strange noise, another chicken has died, the neighbour’s cat has been sick on the floor and the stick insects have escaped. It would be a struggle, but if you can help your family each day give a report on "what nice thing happened today" – it would help them to develop into the kind of person others want to be around. (Perhaps you could try – "at least the freezer is still working and now we can boast about having free-range stick insects!")

Leaders think of others

The family meal table is a place to learn to put the needs of others before your own – or at the very least, to share the last scrapings of ice cream from the tub. This is a toughie for all of us, getting our minds off self, and will probably take a lifetime, but the sooner you start, the better!

Leaders make others feel comfortable

The family table is a place to learn how not to offend… picking one’s nose in public and making rude noises is excusable if you’re under 2, but 22??? It’s an ideal situation to teach the kids how to behave in more formal environments. Unless you never want them to leave home – it would be a good idea to train them in table manners, or they just might never get past first base with a date!

We all have a desperate need to be loved, appreciated and our good points/deeds noticed, so again, if you can find something positive to comment on for each child… if it’s only "I am pleased to see that you did not kick Catherine under the table today", they are more likely to respond positively, will learn the value of encouragement and are more likely to make it part of their personality.

Leaders are fun to talk with

Many youngsters today can hardly hold a conversation for any length of time let alone compose a proper sentence and avoid double negatives!!! They haven’t been taught to be interested in other people, how to "draw" people out, to get their minds off themselves, basically. Teach them to ask "What did you do today, Daddy?" and encourage them not to be shy of visitors. I must add that it’s a delight to hear the "pleases" and "thank yous" coming from the little ones – keep up the good work!

"Give me a child until he is seven"

– so say some religious sects. Why? Because what the children learn when they are young, is ingrained in them. It’s also a case of "monkey see, monkey do". If mealtimes are pleasurable events, with everyone being able to contribute, with a good variety of food on their plates, they will tend to repeat the experience when they leave home. And let me add, that they also pick up on your conversation and responses to Andrew and "file it away" for future reference. If they hear your concern for a neighbour who has lost their job, or a suffered the lost of a loved one, they will presume that is the way to respond, and it will come naturally to them when older to also visit, write a letter, provide a meal etc for those less well off. And just think what important lessons they learnt (and what fun they had!) by being part of the surprise "garden make-over" that the Munro clan orchestrated for our wedding anniversary !

Now by this stage of the letter, I can imagine you might just be grabbing a magazine, cup of coffee and heading for the bathroom! Don’t panic! Eating, and sharing a meal was meant by God to be a pleasurable experience… don’t get bent out of shape about it… relax and enjoy your food and your children… just keep the above points in your mind, and realise that mealtimes aren’t just a matter of "re-fuelling"… they can be priceless training opportunities, which no one else can fulfil.

I can promise you that you will, in time, see the fruit of your labours, and realise the truth of the old saying "The family that eats together, (and talks together!) - stays together".


Mum nutritious meals… it’s a cinch… next time I will be giving you some very basic guidelines that even the kids can follow, so don’t let that side of things bother you!