Whatever happened to family dinners?

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Former The Real Housewives of Melbourne star Chyka Keebaugh has a few ideas about how to bring back the lost tradition of sitting down to a family dinner.

I love talking to people. I love sitting in an Uber and chatting to the driver. I love talking to my kids’ friends about what they’re studying or where they are working. I talk to everybody — and I probably drive everybody up the wall, too.

But I think it’s so nice to listen to other people’s stories. In this time of mobile phones, we are losing the ability to have a conversation with one another.

Nothing depresses me more than seeing a family at a restaurant all on their phones. I can’t help thinking, “Why are you out for dinner? Is it to tick off the box?” It’s like, “Yoohoo, I’m here — talk to me.”

“Nothing depresses me more than seeing a family at a restaurant all on their phones. I can’t help thinking, “Why are you out for dinner?”
media_camera“Nothing depresses me more than seeing a family at a restaurant all on their phones. I can’t help thinking, “Why are you out for dinner?”

When I was a child, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother learning to cook. I loved making dinner and setting the table.

I wanted to make every meal a celebration, whether it was just the family having dinner, or if it was for an occasion. And the one thing I really wanted when I had my own children [Francesca and BJ, now in their 20s] was to do that as well, because around the dinner table is where you find out more about each other’s lives.

I’m happy to say that my kids have always loved sitting down and having a conversation, even though my daughter, in particular, is obsessed with her phone. Recently we were on holidays together, and my daughter brought along an article about the best 36 questions to ask someone to get to know them better.

We all ended up crying and laughing. That was something the kids instigated so when I saw them doing that, I thought “OK, I’ve done something right.”

Chyka and Bruce Keebaugh. (Picture: Marcel Aucar)
media_cameraChyka and Bruce Keebaugh. (Picture: Marcel Aucar)

In the olden days, it was a given that you would eat together; it’s what you did on a Sunday after church, if you went to church, or Friday nights was “fish and chips night”.

The Italians, the Greeks, the Jewish families on a Friday night — these cultures have got it right. They all come together as a family and talk.

Everyone knows everything that everyone is up to — and yes, it can also drive you insane — but there’s a support system as well.

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The only way to change how rare family dinners have become is to make them a priority. We need to appreciate how special it is. Friends and family are very special; not everyone has them. And so when you do, you need to enjoy them and love them.

Since my kids have flown the nest, it’s more important than ever for my husband Bruce and I to have fun together and enjoy each other’s company. It’s a huge priority for us. We met at 20 and we’ve been married 27 years. He’s my best friend.

We love nothing more than sitting down, having a glass of wine and chatting about what’s going on.

Chyka Keebaugh features in this Sunday’s Stellar.
media_cameraChyka Keebaugh features in this Sunday’s Stellar.

Of course we still have massive family get-togethers at our house, too. It’s fun, it’s loud, it’s noisy, and everyone’s opinionated.

It always looks fantastic because I love creating that, but it’s certainly not perfect. Who wants perfection anyway? I like it all to be a bit mad and silly.

And there doesn’t have to be a special reason to celebrate around the dinner table together either. Bring out your good china and get out the nice serviettes or napkins for no other reason than you just want to — and get talking.

Chyka Celebrate by Chyka Keebaugh (Hardie Grant, $40) is out on September 1.

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