For many, Thanksgiving is synonymous with turkey, dressing, casseroles, aunts, uncles and cousins. It is a time when families travel afar to enjoy each other, feast together and say thank you for their many blessings.
At each of Florida Baptist Children’s Homes’ cottages on Thanksgiving Day, there will certainly be more cranberry sauce and homemade Southern delights on the table than on the average day. However, in other ways, the children will say it is much like the family meals they experience every evening together at the Children’s Homes — talking, laughing, asking for seconds and just being kids.
While each cottage has up to eight children at any given time, along with two house parents, daily family meals are a priority. “The reasons go deeper than just getting the third square meal of the day,” said Pam Whitaker, M.A., LMHC, Vice President of Programs at FBCH.
“Many of these children come to us from broken homes and haven’t experienced what it’s like to sit down together for a family meal,” said Whitaker. “With busy school schedules, sharing a meal most nights is difficult for any family. However, we know it is worth it.”
As a licensed mental health counselor for FBCH since 1999, Whitaker has seen the psychological impact family meals have had on thousands of children who have been abused, abandoned and neglected.
“It is a guaranteed time together when they can talk about their days at school, their hurts, and their frustrations,” said Whitaker. “It is also a time when they can feel as though they are part of a real family — with parents and other siblings who care about them.”
For Paul and Lanieve Imig, who became the primary house parents of Denham
Tate Cottage nine months ago, this will be the first Thanksgiving spent with their new FBCH family. Having four children of their own, three now grown and one who lives with them in the cottage on the Lakeland campus, they believe family meals bring about the best in everyone.
“I think it’s true for most people that good food can turn your mood around. The smell alone of tacos, one of the kids’ favorites, sets the tone for positive time together without the television, computers, and homework,” said Lanieve. “It has bonded us to the point that while we are not a biological family, we know we are a family nonetheless.”
A game the Imigs play every night is “High, Low.” Each parent and child says what their best (high) and worst (low) moments were for that day. Paul also leads a devotion during dinner and the topic depends upon what is happening within their family.
“For a time, we had an ongoing issue with one of the children lying. Our devotions focused on how God feels about that and how we can make other choices that delight God’s heart,” said Paul.
On most nights, after dinner, the Imigs participate in some type of activity — whether it is basketball, kickball or volleyball.
“I have to admit that some nights our meals are a bit faster than others because we have something fun planned afterward,” said Paul.
However, research has shown that it is not the duration of the family meals that has the greatest impact — it is just the fact that they happen.
As for Thanksgiving, Paul and Lanieve said their goal is to make it special for the kids at Denham Tate Cottage.
Family dinners are important for every child!
Tell us what makes your dinners special and send us a photograph of your family together at the table. Send to Katy.Martin@FBCHomes.org with the subject line “Family Dinners Are Important.” We will select two photos to appear in our next Sharing magazine!