It’s a scene we all remember from our childhoods. Our parents had a dinner party. Or all the relatives came over for a holiday meal. And then, after everyone had eaten, the kids were sent away. To go downstairs and watch a movie. To put on their pajamas and go to bed. It was “time for the grown ups to talk” and we weren’t allowed to be a part of it.
Of course, we instinctively repeat this pattern ourselves. Now that we’re the grownups, we’re sending our own kids away so we can talk. Or we’re putting headphones on them and handing over the iPad so they are distracted while we make a phone call or handle some business. It makes sense—not everything is appropriate for kids to hear. It feels good to connect with someone our age and at our level sometimes.
But this is also a missed opportunity—especially as our kids get older. We want them to mature, right? We want them to see how civil dialog works, right? We want them to enjoy a good conversation and to pick up, through osmosis, the issues of the world. So why do we deliberately exclude them from opportunities to do so?
Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography just how much he benefited from precisely this kind of parenting from his father:
“I remember well his being frequently visited by leading people…At his table he liked to have, as often as he could, some sensible friend or neighbor to converse with and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life.”
Let us try to follow that example with our own children. If we want to raise grownups, there is no better education than letting them be around grown up conversation, and there is no safer place for them to make their first forays (and stumbles) in that world than the seat right next to us.