Why I Regret Not Realizing The Importance Of Family Dinners As A Kid

Originally published on Unwritten by Kelly August.

Two hours, one dessert binge, and a bottle of Pinot later, my Danish host family and I giggle softly at the joke my host dad just made. The soft glow of the moon reflects off our wine glasses as I try and forget about the amount of reading I have due for tomorrow. But that's not important right now, no. Each recount of our days, the laughs at smudged translation, and the sighs of satisfaction from a home cooked meal make this moment more important than anything the four of us need to do for tomorrow. My host mom retrieves another bottle of wine, and my host sister pulls out the Danish version of Monopoly. When another three hours have passed, the house echoes with playful jabs and arguments about who owes whom money and where to build more hotels. Time might stop for no one, but in Denmark, time waits for you while circled around the dinner table.

I journeyed across the Atlantic to Denmark in mid-August with few expectations as to what my experience would yield while living in a homestay. My host mom and dad both welcomed me with ample warmth and biscuits, and truly have treated me like one of their daughters. However, one culture dissimilarity has definitely proven most difficult to transition to: family dinners. Back in Maryland, sitting around the table with the five other members of my family didn't exist. "Family dinners," almost taboo in my home, only occurred for Thanksgiving or birthdays. We just didn't have time to allocate towards listening to one another's days...homework, soccer practice, and the latest episode of "Extreme Makeover Home Edition" simply held higher priority in our daily lives.

In the beginning, I felt uncomfortable sitting at the table for so long; I couldn't accept the natural silence that fell after a pause in the conversation. I just wasn't acclimated to ending my busy and hectic day over dinner with loved ones. At home, I had always shoved my dinner in my mouth either over my laptop or in order to rush out the door to run errands or go to practice. My family never suggested sitting together, nor did we make any effort to. We simply accepted that everyone had a fine day, and that was that. How awful. I couldn't even ask my sisters how their tests went or what happened at morning assembly. I never took the time to hear how many free-throws my brother swished at practice. I failed to acknowledge my mom's questions about my plans for the weekend because I just had to study. I wouldn't tell my dad good luck for his upcoming interview because I was too tired and needed to go to bed right after eating. Time for me, for Kelly, was all that mattered.

Maybe we Americans can learn a little something or two from another culture for once. Maybe we can reach beyond our bubble, and shake hands with ideas from the outside world about making time wait for us. I keep wondering if my parents would still be pursuing a divorce if we had all sat down at the table together each night; I wonder if my sisters and I would have a more open relationship with one another; I wonder if my brother would feel like he could come to me even though we're eight years apart. I wonder what would've happened if my family had taken the time to listen to one another, and because I now know how much a simple sit down conversation can change things. My wondering will likely never stop.