Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

Lily Cat Music for Kids: Mothering - My Blog

Bringing Peace to the Dinner Table

Posted on February 20, 2014 with 0 comments





How but in custom and in ceremony

Are innocence and beauty born?

    William Butler Yeats, A Prayer for My Daughter, 1919


I happened on those words by Yeats at just the right time in my life:  when my two boys were still toddlers.   


Yeats' words had an instant and profound effect on me.  Although his prayer was about bigger themes (the search for beauty and innocence after the horrors of World War I) I decided to take those two lines from his prayer and personalize them.  I was determined to find a way to bring some custom and ceremony, indeed, some beauty, into the tiny yellow house that I shared with my husband and two little boys.  


 Even though I was a full time mother and housewife and had plenty of time to spend with my boys, there was much that was neither beautiful or pleasant. 


There was too much crying and arguing over little things, too many messes that never seemed to get  cleaned up and way too many meals that were ruined by squabbling, squalling and bad manners.  I was disappointed with myself and I wondered why I couldn't manage my own house and children any better   


I'd never thought much about customs and ceremonies.  But I started thinking about them.  And, more importantly, I started creating a few. 



Custom is just another word for 'habit.'   And habits are born from repetition.  


Most of the new little customs I began creating for our lives weren't big and didn't require much effort.    They did, however, require faithful repetition.  


They were mostly very simple things like singing the same little song every time I changed a diaper  (my first songwriting effort and certainly not my best, "You do the poo poo, I do it too too")  repeating the same words and phrases in the same order every night at bedtime (always ending up with "Be good and you'll be happy") or announcing every afternoon at 4:50 right before Barney, the big purple dinosaur, came on TV,  "Okay, ten minutes 'til Barney time.  Everybody hurry and pick up ten things and put them away before Barney starts." Picking up ten things became a game as we each rushed around scooping up toys and counting out loud. 


I discovered that children love repetition.  They don't get tired of hearing the same words and phrases or doing the same things in the same order at the same time every day.  Predictable customs and habits are comforting to children. They like to know what's coming next. It provides them with a reassuring sense of order and control in their own lives.  


Order was good, but it wasn't enough.  I craved beauty and I wanted to bring a sense of beauty and wonder into the daily lives of my children and husband too. 


If habits are about creating order then surely ceremony is about creating beauty.  I knew that it was time to bring some beautiful ceremonies into our house.  


A lot of the little ceremonies I created were seasonal and followed the calendar, not only with its major holidays, but the solstices and equinoxes, a few saints' days., etc.  Our seasonal ceremonies were fun and the boys really seemed to enjoy and appreciate them, but I sensed that we needed more than the occasional ritual.  To live a truly beautiful life, we needed at least one little ceremony each and every day.  


It took me a while to find and establish the daily ceremony I was looking for, but when I finally discovered it, I was astonished at the wonderful effect it had on our family's life together, specifically, the dinner hour. Not only was our new little ritual magical, but it was also simple, cheap and easy. 


What was our wonderful new little ceremony?  It was lighting candles.   I'm talking about candlelit dinners.   Yes, even when my boys were toddlers, we started eating dinner by candlelight every single evening.  


What a dramatic effect those candles had on all of us!  My little boys loved dining in the beautiful warm glow of candlelight.  I did too and though my husband isn't one to say a lot, I think he did too.  


As soon as the candles were lit, voices became hushed, table manners improved and even the food seemed to taste better.  We tended to linger longer at the table and talk more.  And our quiet candle light dinners had the effect of starting to settle us all down to get ready for the other evening rituals of taking baths, brushing teeth and reading a bedtime story. 


In candlelight, my noisy, raucous and energetic little boys became perfect and well mannered little angels.  


Besides candlelight, I made other small efforts to make our dinners pleasant and beautiful.  If I could find a little flower in the yard, I might pick it and put it in the center of the table. We ate off of a clean table, with napkins and real plates and silverware, not ever out of plastic containers or packages, not even fast food.  No blaring TV or radio was allowed either. 


We made a little ritual of turning off the electric lights and lighting our candles and as soon as we did, the atmosphere changed.  There was a palpable sense of relaxation and calm.  Our little candlelight dinners became an island of civilizing beauty, tranquility and intimacy that we all looked forward to.    


My sons are busy grown ups now and we don't often get the opportunity to sit down to family dinners these days,  but when we do, we still eat by candlelight.  Our candlelight dinners have become our own enduring family tradition.