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Tara Campbell Headshot

How Our Dinner Table Influenced Our Future Generation of Men

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To sit at the table can apply to so many aspects of our life. As Sheryl Sandberg refers, it's for women to join in the conversation and become leaders --to lean in. It can mean taking your role as a parent seriously and stepping up to the plate. For most of my life it was as simple as literally getting my four kids to the table and having them all stay there!

Last night I was complimented for my son's manners, work ethic, and for what a great person he was -- "a true joy to have around." My son's employer and his wife mentioned that I did a good job. "What's your secret?" they asked. His employer is a successful custom home builder and has been for 30 years. They hadn't seen a person with such an open and willing attitude and this aptitude of work ethic. Really? I mean he is an exceptional human being -- and my son after all!

This is who he is. It's who he chooses to be and for that he deserves the compliment. But as for my part in it, it wasn't always easy -- the long hours, talking over scenarios, talking again, explaining how, all the why's, teaching him that there are solutions and how to find them, that there isn't only one road, taking road trips, and saying no to watching movies while we were driving so that they didn't miss the view and the conversation, standing at the door and teaching them to open it for someone and to hold it for the next person, and dinner time -- well that was just painful. I often wonder what resources royalty uses to help teach their children manners at the dinner table. Did the Queen actually teach her son table manners while her food went cold? Thank you reminders, requesting that they go back and "close that door again" -- nicely this time instead of slamming it. Reminding them often that their family, their siblings are the most precious gift they have and to take care of each other.

When people who have had kids start giving you advice about yours, they always say, "Enjoy them, the time goes so quickly!" It does! I heard their advice loud and clear and made sure to enjoy them. Now I can say, that with very few exceptions, I have enjoyed all 23 years of my son's life. Why? It was the time I invested, it was taking the longer, more time intensive approach and not giving up when it was a struggle just to get him to say thank you. It was rewinding their mischief and teaching them why it all matters and how it looks. It was stepping away when I was frustrated and revisiting it when I could reason with him (ALMOST all of the time). It was reminding myself that there was a time and place for instructing them and that meant not always in front of people. There were times when onlookers, friends, thought the boys were getting away with too much, but my focus was always about my role as a mother -- to educate them and to give them the tools, leaving out what others thought may be the best way for the times. Everything was talked about. As my boys got older most things were negotiable, to teach them that their life is by design.

My family eats dinner at the dinner table every night. And through years of conflict and resistance they came home -- no matter how far away they were playing or who they needed to bring for dinner. Taking it one step further, no one would start eating until myself or the one who prepared the meal sat down and everyone was seated at the table. We started when everyone was at the table.

Our round table is where each of us had a voice and was equally heard. We didn't have a head of the table but the hierarchy of our family unit was clear. We all came to the table to celebrate our day together and to check in with each other. We would share exciting news and dream with no video games, TV-watching, or phones. Dynamics change, opinions change, and growth happened. Now my grown boys come home and thank me for the years of good food, good conversation, and the experience of sitting at the table nightly to reconnect.

They are still learning and finding their way, as we all know, sometimes we just have to dip our toes in to believe the water is cold. Being a single mother wasn't easy, but choosing the RIGHT road no matter how long it is for you and your family reaps tremendous rewards!