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Challenge: Gratitude & Giving

Best. Worst. Thankful.

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Best. Worst. Thankful.

“I want to go first for “best!”

-My best part of the day was playing with (name that kid) at recess.

-My best part of the day was that they had chicken nuggets at lunch.

-My favorite part of the day was that everyone was home, and we could play outside before dinner.

“I’ll go next for “worst.”

-(Name that kid) said my hair is stupid.

-I think everyone knows my worst part. When I skinned my knee riding on my scooter.

-I didn't have a worst. It was a really good day!

"I'll do "thankful!"

-I'm really thankful that we have a dog. I love Ginger.

-I'm really thankful for our awesome grandparents.

-I'm really thankful for our family. I love you guys!

Every night that our whole family is together (usually three to five times a week) we have done our best to eat a meal together and practice sharing at least these three things. If I were to point to one single thing that has shaped our newly forming family, this is it.

We started this practice after my son and I took part in a similar sharing at our friends' home. They went around the table and we were invited to join in. It felt a little awkward - What am I going to share? Will I mess this up? But we participated, and it was really lovely.

I'd love to say after that interaction I was sold, and began immediately incorporating this into our lives, but I didn't. Instead I remembered this experience after a little desperation after we had a few bumps in the road at meal time.

I've always been a big believer in the importance of family meals. Some of my very favorite memories are of sitting at the table in my childhood home at the white Formica table with the teal green chairs, eating dinner and listening to my parents talk about their days. I swear 90% of my knowledge of business came from intensively listening to my dad tell about his experiences at work, interactions between peers - the good and not so great, and listening to my mom talk about her days teaching elementary students. I'm 100% sure that the reason I did not go into teaching came from this as well. My memories of my grandparents' homes are also centered around the kitchen tables and the big meals that we enjoyed whoever we visited. That's where the stories were shared, where I learned about our family, and where I laughed the hardest. This has always been something I wanted for my family and children. I insist on it.

But when you're blending a family, you also blend traditions big and small, and the first few weeks I had unrealistic expectations about how meal time would go. Eventually we settled into a pattern where we all ate at the same time, and roughly the same food. It took me awhile to figure out that four out of five people will always eat whatever the dish is, but five out of five is just asking for a meltdown - usually mine. We got through that, but we were still struggling at first with the dynamic of conversation, conflict and competition that came out of three kids trying to share, or not having space to share about their days.

That's when I remembered the meal we shared with our friends. At first we started with "Best" and "Worst", and I won't lie, it was awkward. Even surface level vulnerability with "new" people is hard. But we got better and persisted. And what was amazing was that the dynamic in our family began to change. The kids were learning that they each had their own space to share, their own time to have a voice with ALL of our attention, they didn't always have to compete. They began to relax at the table, which meant that I didn't have to remind each of them fifty times to sit on their bottoms to eat. Most importantly, we all began to learn about one another. Eric and I learned a lot about what the kids were experiencing at school, what they enjoyed, and what hurt their feelings. The kids could laugh about shared experiences at different schools, and ask questions about one another’s friends, teachers, and recesses. Dinner time became a time we all looked forward to.

Pretty soon the kids would remind us when we skipped "Best and Worst” demanding that the adults not leave the table until everyone was finished. Our conversations became deeper, with the adults sharing what makes for a “best or worst” in our worlds. We also practiced and modeled sharing feelings. “I really miss Aunt Lillie today, and that makes me feel sad.” “I had a good meeting at work today, and I feel proud of what I accomplished.” I don’t remember exactly when, but after a few months one of the kids mentioned that we should really add "thankful" to the mix. So now we finish the discussion with what we are thankful for that day. A reminder to practice gratitude and thankfulness for everything from Ketchup, to a warm house over our heads, to faith and family.

There’s no doubt in my mind that “Best, Worst, and Thankful” has forever changed our newly forming family, and will continue to bring us together one meal at a time.

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