What began as a homework assignment for high school students gradually developed into a one-woman campaign to improve family life by encouraging families to eat together.
For Mary Mathews, of the Washington 6th Ward, Federal Way Washington Stake, eating together is a simple basic of life. "When I was being raised, eating together as a family was automatic. And we did it with our family as the children grew. Eating together makes such a difference. I think it even shows up in class. The kids who regularly ate dinner with their families just seemed more grounded," she said.
Her belief in families eating together prompted her to declare March 12-18 as "Table Talk Week" in the state of Washington. Despite her encouragement, the governor didn't follow her lead by proclaiming it for the state. Undaunted, Sister Mathews pursued her beliefs. She prepared a brochure, "Table Talk, Strengthening Families at Mealtime," and passed out more than 6,000 copies to raise awareness that "families that eat together tend to be more happy."
"It opens the lines of communication," she said. "It's positive and we as parents can really help our families in something as simple as eating dinner together."
Her campaign had its roots in a family psychology class she taught in an area high school. During a segment in her class, she asked students to eat with their families for a week and record their experiences in a personal journal. She gave them two rules, meals needed to last longer than 20 minutes, and the television had to be turned off.
"On the first day of the assignment, one boy wrote how boring it was to eat together," she said. "He wrote how his family just sat and stared at each other, having nothing to say."
But Sister Mathews encouraged her students to continue with the project. She promised that they would see improvement in their family relationships in a week. "By the end of the week, the student had written how much things had improved and how much he actually liked eating and talking together."
"It was the best experience he'd had and he wanted to continue," Sister Mathews said.
Her designation of "Table Talk Week" gained the endorsement of the Federal Way Public Schools and the Auburn School District. "I have no real stake in this," she said. "My only interest is that I thought it was important to do."
Another in a series of "Shining Moments."
Illustration by John Clark