Laurette Batstone Sales And Marketing Specialist Freelance

He table for TV swop Laurette Batstone, 34, is a marketing manager. She lives with her husband Gary, 43, her mom-in-law Beth, 73, daughter Donné, 12, and son Nathann, 10, in Ballito. She took on the challenge of getting the family to eat around the table – rather than the TV – at dinner. It’s almost impossible to get our whole family to sit down for dinner together. Gary’s job takes him away from home during the week, while I finish work after 4:30pm most nights and, by the time I get home, all I want to do is put my feet up on my bed and read a book. I’m lucky to have my mom-in-law, Beth, live on the property with us, and she’s an enormous help with the kids. She collects them from school in the afternoon and makes supper from Monday to Thursday, while I take care of the cooking from Friday to Sunday.

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We don’t have much of a routine when it comes to dinner; mostly everyone eats when they are hungry and wherever they are comfortable. Donné and Nathann get home from school after 3pm and are ravenous so Beth makes sure they have something to eat then, which means that when I get home from work no one is really hungry. Beth has likened it to a relay race where each family member takes turns to fill their stomachs at various times in the evening. Even though Gary and I grew up in households where we regularly ate around the dinner table, it’s just not something we implemented in our home, although we’ve spoken about it a few times while all huddled around the TV. Until, of course, this challenge to break our TV dinner habit for a whole week. We’re a competitive bunch, so everyone was excited to do it – we even agreed that this was going to be the first seven days of the rest of our lives!

MONDAY

We decided to eat dinner at 6pm each night this week and tonight, I came home to find the table beautifully set by Donné. She’d clearly hunted around and found some placemats that I didn’t even know we owned and had carefully laid out glasses, cutlery, crockery, condiments and juice on the dining-room table. It looked so welcoming – like a real family dinner.

Chatting about everyone’s days without the TV blaring in the background was like a breath of fresh air. The conversation flowed and I didn’t have to prompt the kids for answers – they were quite happy to fill me in.

TUESDAY

Donné has really taken to the no-TV dinner challenge and found a second set of place mats. She’d once again done a sterling job at setting the table and had even included a selection of juices to have with dinner, and there was a big salad for the table. I think I could get used to this!

WEDNESDAY

School holidays started today, but I got home late from work. When I walked through the door, I assumed that everyone would have been tired of waiting and eaten dinner, but they hadn’t. Donné clearly didn’t want us to trip up so early on and had everyone wait until I got home. Not wanting to feel left out of everything, Nathann took it upon himself to clear the table.

THURSDAY

We were only halfway through our no-TV challenge, but we were already in a good routine; Donné would set the table and Nathann would then clear it. We started calling it ‘family dinner’ and tonight we even had jelly and custard for dessert.

FRIDAY

Because it’s the end of a work week, Fridays are a casual afair so I thought this would be the one day where we’d break down. We usually grab a takeaway and kick our feet up, but Donné kept us on track and had even created name cards that she’d carefully handwritten.

SATURDAY

We were out for the whole day and despite getting home late, we all decided to sit around the table and tuck into waes and ice-cream. Yes, we had spent most of the day together but sitting at the table as a family had now become a ritual that we all looked forward to.

SUNDAY

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and Gary cooked us burgers on the braai. Like clockwork, we gathered around the table to tuck into our lunch. We sat chatting long after we’d devoured the last of our burgers.

THE EXPERIENCE…

Even though I had my doubts throughout the week about whether or not we’d make it to Sunday, my family proved me wrong. Despite the huge temptation to be couch potatoes, Donné and Nathann made sure we stuck it out. I half expected the kids to plead with me to end the challenge and I’m fairly certain I would have caved.

It was great to see the kids find their diferent roles and responsibilities during the challenge without me having to instruct either of them. Donné’s care in setting the table and Nathann’s plate clearing made for a much easier challenge than I expected. I have loads of fond memories of eating dinner with my siblings, and I love knowing that Donné and Nathann will look back and feel the same way. Family dinners have become a far more regular occurrence in our house. It might not be every night, but we have definitely broken a bad habit and replaced it with a great new one.

What the expert says We talk a lot about the dangers of kids spending too much time on social media, but we conveniently forget that the same principles apply to grown-ups. Non-restricted screen and social media time can be harmful to mental health regardless of age, says clinical psychologist Sian Green. ‘Social media has allowed us to create a pseudo-reality that gives us a glimpse into other people’s lives, but it most often only shows us the “good stuf”. People are quick to post snaps of their beach holiday but there’ll rarely be mention of the months of scrimping and saving that lead up to the trip, or the tantrum thrown by the toddler after the photo was taken.’ The constant need to be ‘switched on’ also means that our attention and engagement will always be divided.

‘Scrolling through your Instagram feed and answering that WhatsApp message all while watching TV with our loved ones might seem like we are interacting with multiple groups at once, but we are actually far less engaged and present,’ adds Sian. ‘We all fall into the trap of spreading our attention spans so thin that we end up feeling fried and disengaged. So whether it’s your child’s joy as they climb to the top of a slide or it’s your partner’s good news when they tell you about their day, you’re ultimately going to miss out on something. It can also be really addictive, as well as contribute to mental health diiculties like depression and sleep deprivation.

‘Create a “devices box” where everyone’s phones and tablets go during certain times of the day, like supper time. This will help to create boundaries that will prevent frivolous social media updates interrupting meaningful face-to-face interactions. If it’s not possible to have a tech-free environment, perhaps put your phone out of reach so you can restrict the temptation,’ says Sian. She also suggests finding a new charging space at night that’s not your bedside table so that you can engage in more suitable, healthy sleep habits.

What the expert says ‘Eating a meal together as a family encourages communication and provides a space for everyone to be understood and heard, which can help strengthen relationships and create a feeling of unity,’ says Sian. ‘I encourage families to sit together at least once a week, ideally more. It doesn’t have to be dinner; if breakfast suits your household’s schedule then grab a bowl of cereal and gather around the table in the morning.’

Cooking dinner every night can be a chore, so spread the workload. Let each family member suggest a meal for one night of the week then get everyone involved: for example, someone can be responsible for chopping all the veg while someone else sets the table. Play music, and it’ll feel less like a chore and more like a fun family event – and make sure everyone helps with the clean-up!

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