You’ve read the articles in the various “Home and Family” magazines about how important it is to have family dinners together at least 3 to 4 times a week, about how your children will feel more secure, know they have a “place” in the world (having one at the table), will be less prone to taking drugs and acting out violently from the mere experience of having dinner together. Plus, there’s teaching your children the niceties of table manners and social conventions, like not stabbing your food (yes it is dead already and that’s a vegetable, anyway) and learning how to leave some of the special goodies for others (it’s called sharing – what a concept).

Well, with all these benefits, you could hardly call yourself a good Mom unless you made sure the family eats together – at the same table, at the same time. So you re-arrange your schedule, spend the wee hours creating dinner menus and seatings that somehow accommodate vastly different schedules, school/work/practice obligations and tastes. Yet after wrangling the kids (and your husband) into the joy of family dinners, here you sit, all 5 of you, bored beyond belief with conversation consisting largely of “Don’t poke your sister” and “Please pass the peas.”

Or . . . you don’t have any children, or they’ve all flown the nest, and you’ve been married or in your relationship for oh – anywhere upwards of 5 years – and most of your meals together at home are eaten in front of the television. Not because you don’t love each other – you do, very much. It’s just that by now you know pretty much everything about each other, so what’s to talk about? Nonetheless, you’ve seen on the talk shows that dinner together is supposed to be good for your relationship, so dinner together (in TV abstinence mode) it is. Yet here you sit the two of you at the table bored beyond belief with conversation that begins and ends with “How was your day.”

Now surely there’s more to eating dinner together than getting the food from your plate into your stomach. Surely it’s the connection, the relating, the communication that flows from one to the other that makes dinners together so valuable. So how do you get that flow going? How do you transform family dinners with or without children from boring events to pleasurable, worthwhile experiences?

By priming the pump. By indulging in that precious but all-too-often-lost art of conversation. Not philosophy on a grand scale (at least not at the with-kids dinners), just conversation.

Here is an easy way to create dinner table conversation:
For family-with-kids dinners, ask everyone in the family to contribute – on a weekly basis - 10 questions that cannot be answered by “Yes” or “No.” Questions can range from “What’s a planet?” to “Why did the cat throw up all over my shoes?” Anything goes, as long as the question is open-ended. Cut the questions up so you have each question on an individual slip of paper. Then, come dinner-time, pass around a box, envelope or whatever other container suits your fancy, and ask each family member to pick a question at random. Everybody takes turns in reading their question out loud, and everybody else must answer the question. Answers can be serious or humorous, completely made-up fantastical responses, or proven scientific fact. What’s important isn’t the answers, it’s the wonderful fun of learning what makes the other tick, how your family views the world, theirs and the world at large.

When it comes to your mate, you can easily prime the conversation pump by investing in a simple book of questions – yes, they exist! You’ll find all sorts of conversation starters that will open up discussions of many different subjects, all of which can lead to knowing more about the delightfully unique beings that you are.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D. is a respected psychologist, consultant, speaker and author. Her most recent book is "The Power of Appreciation in Business (MindLab Publishing, 2005). For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives--at work, at home and in relationships. Dr. Noelle welcomes your comments via email ( You can visit Dr. Noelle anytime at