Episode 30 –
Fostering Meaningful Conversations with Jennifer Zumbiel
“We have this stereotype that maybe the older kids don’t want to speak or go deeper, but I think they crave it because that’s the generation that’s missing out on face to face communication.”
How do we foster meaningful communication in our home when we’re tired after a long day and our kiddos want to sit in front of a screen? Jennifer Zumbiel was sick of seeing families staring at their phones when they were out to dinner and that’s how Togather Moments, the game, was born!
Listen in to hear how this game is changing mealtime for families and creating both fun and meaningful conversations. You can find more about Jennifer and Togather Moments at TogatherMoments.com and click HERE for the free Togather printable! Thanks for listening!
If you’d like to discuss your specific situation and how the Raiseology 60 day system can help transform your life, your relationship with your spouse, your relationship with your children, and most importantly your relationship with yourself, book a free 15 minute call with me HERE!
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Click Here to Read the Full Transcript
Welcome to the Raiseology podcast with your host, pediatrician and parenting mentor, Sharon Somekh, here to empower parents to raise resilient and independent children. Grab your coffee or your Margarita and let’s get started. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should be used to supplement rather than substitute the care provided by your physician.
Sharon: If you’d like to discuss your specific situation and how the Raiseology 60 day system can help transform your life, your relationship with your spouse, your relationship with your children, and most importantly your relationship with yourself, book a free 15 minute call at Raiseology.as.me/consultation today. I have with me Jennifer Zumbiel and she is the founder of togather moments and she’ll tell us all about that during the episode, but she is a mom of four just like me, which gives us an instant bond to be quite honest and she’s really lovely. I’m going to have her introduce herself a little bit more in detail and tell us a little bit more about her family and her story.
Jennifer: Hi Sharon. Thank you for having me. I agree about the bond. When you meet someone that has four children, now I’m a little different than you. I had my three girls, but our fourth was a boy. So, um, that has been a game changer for us and all the good ways. But, uh, I live in Kentucky and I have been married for 15 years. I have four children, like we just said, we’re very busy. We’re in a super busy season of life. My kiddos are about the same age as yours. They range from ages three up to 11 and we make our household really fun. I like to say we always have tons of fun together. We’re very involved with our children. My husband and I are both coaches of our kids. I coach basketball, he coaches soccer and um, we just love to go out and hang, hang out together, spend time together, playing outside, doing all those things. So I will say I have a teaching background. So I used to teach high school and I also have a business degree. I was in that for a little bit and then decided to go back to school to be a teacher. But that’s my background and kind of placing me where I am today with running my own business.
Sharon: Yeah, it’s very cool. We’re going to talk about your business and how it applies to parenting in a little while, but um, I think we wanted to talk a little bit about sort of your philosophy in parenting and just sort of what you think is really important as you parent your for children and what drives the decisions that you’re making and really how you feel like you’re getting your point across.
Jennifer: So together moments, my business itself is all about connecting people face to face and I would say that is my, my greatest parenting philosophy has always been having that ongoing communication within, well with, between me and my husband but also with our children. I feel like if you do not take time to get to know your children and they do not take time to get to know you, you cannot expect to have the respect you need or of course the openness that you need later on. I mean, we all hope that our children come to us when they’re in middle school or as teenagers and come to us with the big stuff, so if we can talk to them about the little stuff, um, when they’re younger and even the stuff that seems little to us, but it’s big to them when they’re little, then we should feel really confident that as they grow, they’re going to come to us, which I believe would be every single parents dream for what they want as a parent is to have open communication. And um, I, I just think that communication is the foundation of everything and when that breaks down, everything else starts to break down. And I just really feel very strongly about protecting that within the family.
Sharon: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think that that can be the root of problems between couples and parents and children. And it is a source of stress for a lot of parents of middle schoolers and high schoolers. And I, I do think that, you know, part of the work that we can do as parents when our kids are young is setting up those lines of communication very early on and making sure that not only are we comfortable that we can handle those discussions when they come up, but that they’re comfortable to bring them to us. And um, you know, even like simple, it’s, it’s, maybe it’s not simple, but discussions such as, you know, maturation discussions and things when your kids are going through puberty. And, um, it’s something that our district, for example, we’ll have a whole fifth grade maturation night and it’s really interesting.
The parents are clearly embarrassed to be there. The kids are embarrassed to be there. And we went when my daughter was in fifth grade, and I say we, because my husband was one of the few fathers in the room for the girls fifth grade maturation night, you know, and um, and she, he came late so he showed up a little bit late because he was coming from work and she spotted him in the back and called him to come all the way to the front and sit right next to her. So it was really,
Jennifer: Oh, I love that!
Sharon: It was kind of funny, but at the same time it’s for me, it felt so good to know that she feels so comfortable to not only be there with him, which I think a lot of daughters probably told their fathers to stay home, but she wanted him right next to her. And um, and certainly those kinds of discussions or discussions that my husband and I feel comfortable with partly because we’re both physicians and we just don’t, we take the medical approach in a sense to that. And we, we really talk about those things very matter of factly. But we try as much as possible to be open to hearing about anything and I think the hardest thing is knowing that not only, not always as the opinion that you give the one that they want to hear. Um, but I think that’s important too.
Jennifer: And I would say I obviously just from that statement that you’re daughter called him up. She wasn’t embarrassed. She felt totally comfortable having her dad there just says a whole lot about how you guys have been examples of that in your family and just made that commonplace that none of that feels uncomfortable because it’s just always been a part of your life. And um, I think that that’s such a great foundation they have in your home. And I will also say, I don’t think just because it hasn’t been commonplace that you can’t start instituting things to make it happen. And I think sometimes people are so scared. Well it’s not comfortable. I don’t know how to, how to even bring that into my home. And um, and I think baby steps can happen. You just have to do it the right way, which is actually why I even created this product is because I felt like there is a better way and there’s just, there’s a way to do it the right way and wrong way and I, I hope that I have made people feel a little more comfortable to be able to bring that communication back to their homes or just continue it for people that are already doing it.
Sharon: Yeah. So tell me a little bit about Togather moments and how you designed it really to help parents have some of these conversations and, and even how you would recommend a family use them if they’re not struggling with these kinds of conversations.
Jennifer: Yeah, great questions. Okay. So yes, this is certainly for everybody Togather moments as the name of our business and it was created out of our flagship product which called Togather. It’s just a mealtime game, which might sound like, oh, that’s, you know, there’s lots of mealtime games out there. There are, but I wanted to do something better. Um, I came up with this idea about three years ago at this point and we were sitting at a restaurant one Sunday afternoon having lunch and I just was so tired of looking around and seeing everybody staring at their phones and completely disconnected and I left that day and said to my parents, I said to my husband, there has got to be a better way. This is out of control. We are raising our kids in a society that doesn’t even value face to face communication anymore.
Or if they do, they don’t even know what to do anymore because they just instinctively grab that phone or grab a screen and they’d rather do that than to engage in anything of substantial meaning with someone next to them because it might just be easier. They might not even know how to do anymore. So I set out on a mission to figure out how to bring people together. And I thought that the key really is the meal table, doesn’t have to be dinner, doesn’t have to be six nights a week. It just has to be done the right way. You have a captive audience sitting at a table in front of you and you are essentially in a circle, rounded up. Even if you’re sitting at your rectangle table, you are all together engaged and I believe there is a way to do it, to to initiate that conversation, in a way that will get more than a one word answer. We all know we hate one word answers from our children or from our spouses.
There’s a way to just come up with questions that you want to dig deeper with. I think all parents and spouses want to have meaningful conversation. It’s just sometimes at the end of a day, whether you’re a full time mom, stay at home mom or you work full time, you are exhausted and to mentally think, how do I dig deeper with my kid and get them to not say fine to me about their day? What do I do? It’s hard to get there and so I wanted to just provide a way for people to outsource that communication and, and do it in a way that doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself because you can’t come up with the questions. There’s simply prompts. So what I decided was, I know this has to be really good questions. They all have to lead to more communication, not one word answers and they all have to dig deeper in some way.
And I also did not want them to be cards like traditional meal time games because I think that kind of implies like board games, um, it’s called a game. We call them games, but they’re really disguise that way because they’re more of conversation tools. But I also wanted them to be cohesive because you’re bringing people together. It needed to be a symbol of that. So what it is, is a book with fold-out sticker pages. So you choose a category. There are seven of them and there are 15 stickers on every page for a total of 105 stickers. There are light-hearted categories, there are more in depth categories where you ended up complementing each other, you share your greatest risks in life, you share your proudest moments. Um, and then there’s just ones where you’re counting the garbage cans around your house, but the point is to lead to that conversation.
So you choose a category, you peel a sticker and you put it on your arm, you put it on your leg. It’s just something fun and fidgety because that’s what everyone needs these days. And then you just talk, you just go around the table and you talk. And I am getting really great feedback of just people like you asked what if you’re already doing this and what if you don’t. For the people that are already doing it, they love that it’s just is a way for them to not have to think about the questions on the time. They’ve probably been great at it, but we all need a little break from that sometimes. So it just helps. And then for the people who have never done anything like this, um, I had a family, they have four children under the ages of 10 and they were getting into a habit of eating in front of the TV every night and this was their tool that they needed to bring them back to the table and she has told me that they’ve quit eating in front of the TV because now they just realize there’s a better way to have conversation with one another. They just had forgotten how to do it, you know?
Sharon: Yeah. I commend her for even recognizing that. Right. And that is something that I talk to people about all the time when they call me to say I need help with something. First thing I say is I commend you for even recognizing that you need help because it’s so easy to stay in that habit and you know, it’s fun to sit in front of the TV and it’s, you know, like the kids don’t complain and you could see how that would spiral into something that is done everyday and no one even thinks there is a problem.
Jennifer: Yes. I think those things just become slow fades. Right. You don’t even know when it ended. It’s like anything in life. Oh, I’ve been trying to eat healthy. Oh yeah. When did I, it’s been about three weeks since I remembered I was doing that. Right. You just, you just forget it and you don’t even know when it ends.
Sharon: Yeah, and you know, you and I were talking about this a little bit before we started recording and, you know, um, we were talking about how I really feel that we have to be very intentional as parents about creating these habits. And when I say that we need to be intentional, I think that we need to think about what our end game is before we even start. Right? Um, and so I challenge my clients to think about what kind of children they want to produce or really what kind of adults they want to produce. And um, and of course we can’t control everything in our kids’ lives and we don’t need to, but we want to, to encourage them to be able to make the right decisions when they are faced with choices.
And for me that means we need to really be intentional in the very beginning and teach them how to do that. And I think that there is a disconnect between what parents really ultimately want their children to be like and how they’re currently parenting because it, it’s we’re tired and we have all these quote, unquote tools at our disposal that really sometimes can be more damaging than beneficial, but they’re easy and we don’t realize that that’s causing this disconnect. And so, um, I, I find what you’re doing to be really interesting and to be honest, we do have conversations around the dinner table and we don’t watch TV when we’re eating, but we run out of things to talk about and um, and I think it sounds really intriguing just even for my family and you know, how many days in a row can you talk about, you know, your highs and lows or what you’re, what you’re thankful for today.
And the kids get bored with that eventually. And so, um, can you give us an example of some of the categories and questions?
Jennifer: Yes. Okay. So one of the categories is called Things that make me go, and then you peel a sticker and they’re all different phrases. So one might say, and I’ll back up and say these would be what today made you say this phrase. So one is, that was amazing. One is you’ve got to be kidding me. One is how wonderful. Okay. So you get the idea there, there’s 15 of them and it just leads to your child or your spouse or yourself picking out something from your day that you probably had forgotten happened or you didn’t see the significance. But once you start talking about it leads to more conversation. So let me give you an example of that.
One night I just had my girls home and we pulled the sticker, that’s crazy. My nine year old picked it and she said, oh, we did something today at a friend’s house. And I wasn’t really comfortable doing that. And we talked about it and I’m just a game they were playing and she didn’t like it. And anyway, it led to this amazing conversation with all of my children at the table on how to get out of a bad situation you’re in and that, you know, I, we came up with a plan and what they should do and how they should, that it’s okay to kind of tell a little lie, you know, we, we went into all that. If you need to get out of the situation, mom and dad will save you. And it just lead to so much good from one little sticker that said, that’s crazy.
It’s just, I think that, like you said, how many times can you do highs and lows and us, I think us moms in particular are the ones. My husband is fantastic. He’s a great communicator with my children as obviously your husband is from your brief example you gave and I’m sure he’s amazing and, but I do think us moms, and maybe it’s self-inflicted pressure, but we think we have to carry all that weight of making sure everyone’s engaged in our family. We’re all connected, we’re all, you know, making sure we create these meaningful moments. And all that, so it does take that out of the, the, um, that moment at the table of the pressure.
Another category is, um, we have a home inspection category which is a little more lighthearted where you just talk about things in your house. So I might get the sticker that says someone at the table choose a sign in our house and I have to say what the sign says. So they might say like, oh, the picture hanging in our family room and you know, you pass it 25 times a day, but you can’t remember what the thing says and it just leads to good conversation at the table. That’s super lighthearted, but you can see how everybody, you know, you don’t need deep conversation all the time. But it does dig a little deeper in the sense of just having, um, a different angle of what you guys are talking about that day. Instead of the same old stuff. And then my, my favorite category and really what launched this whole idea is my category called warm and fuzzy. And that is all about, I have a little blurb introduction of the category and it says consider this, the free hug section. So it’s all about making people feel that warm and fuzzy and so each sticker makes you choose someone different at the table and they all give different traits so you might have to choose the person with the longest hair or the person with the next birthday or the oldest person and then you have to say something that is positive, like tell the oldest person what you admire about them or tell the youngest person what makes them valuable to your family and so that might be my sticker that I have to say about you, but inevitably other people are going to join in and give their compliments to these people.
And I’m sure we all go about our day and compliment our family members at some point. But do we sit around and have that focused time where we are allowing everyone to hear those compliments? Probably not. Not because anybody’s bad, but because opportunities just don’t come up. I think. And this is a way to make them come up naturally, and if, if you just sat at your table and said, okay, I want everyone to go around and say what you admire about each other, it might happen, but there might come a point where people think, mom, that’s so weird, but if the sticker says to do that, it brings a different light to the whole situation.
And I will say there’s seven categories. I won’t go through all of them, but another one is called humble pie. And I love this one. I think that a lot of times in our culture we’re made to not, even know it seems opposite, but we’re made to not really brag about ourselves or, um, feel proud of our accomplishments. You know, you shouldn’t feel good that you earned this or whatever. Someone makes you feel bad about it. But I think with your family specifically, you should feel super comfortable and those people that love you the most. They should make you feel good about sharing your accomplishments. So some of those stickers are a risk I took that made me really proud, a decision I made that I’m happy I made even there’s someone disagreed it, my three best qualities as a friend. So that’s an entire category. And I love that.
Sharon: I love it. I want it. Honestly, I, I think I actually, as you’re talking, I can picture my family sitting around the table doing it. Um, how young would you say you can start playing the game?
Jennifer: Okay, great question. Let me set that up by saying, I mentioned before I taught high school, so when I created this I had three requirements. It had to go deeper, had to lead to more conversation, every single sticker and it had to get a teenager to talk. I felt like if I feel like I have a big heart for teens, I know I’ve taught, I taught them for eight years, so I know how to get in touch with them. Um, so, and I also feel like if you could get teenagers to talk, you can really get the whole spectrum to talk. So this probably sounds like a fluffy answer, but it’s really good for all ages, ages three to 103.
But here’s why, the ideal age of course is going to be the child that can read it themselves and understand what it’s asking them. Of course. Right. So maybe age six. My now seven year old has been playing since she was five and six and she’s done fine. Mostly because she’s tag teaming with everyone else at the table and figuring out what to say. Now my three year old, of course we are prompting him of what to say, but you know, you just reword it. So he got a sticker once that said something about tell the oldest person what you admire. And I was the oldest person at the table so I just said, Nathan, you have to tell mommy something that you really like about her. And he said, I like when you take me to parks or something. So you know, for the little ones, I think I’ve had customers who have purchased this where their oldest was three and they tell me they love it because they’re just sitting around with their spouse having great conversation.
And actually one person just told me, she said, um, she has a two and a three year old, and she was playing it and her, her husband said to her, I feel like you’re just being extra nice to me, which is the whole point, right? It was kind of fun and a humorous comment. But yes, it’s to create that positivity. But, um, I would say for the younger ones, you are really, you, you need to look at this as the tool that is modeling how you want meals to take place. And I think every meal should be a positive experience. I think you should never bring negativity to your table if you want to have those conversations with your children and stuff, do it when the food is gone. Because I think that, oh my goodness, I think back on all of us, all the listeners, both of us can think back on major conversations in our lives growing up, with our friends, with our significant other, whatever.
It probably took place around a meal. So much good happens for meal time conversation. And I think as families we need to be careful that we do keep that meal, a place of positive positivity because as our kids get older and you want to talk to them, you need a place where you know that here’s a chance that good communication is going to happen, you know, put the food on the table. They will come because they have to. And the conversation will happen. So anyway, take out the negativity and you’re modeling how communication takes place, how eye contact happens, how you let everyone have a turn to speak at the table, um, how everybody respects your conversation. So for the little ones, I think whoever buys this needs to think of it as that, that behavior just becomes a habit later. And for the older ones, those teenagers and those college aged kids. I really guarantee they’ll talk. So it’s really for everybody. I have a family of four teenagers that has reached out to me and said her teens just want to keep doing round after round at the table. I think people just crave, we have this stereotype that maybe there’s older kids don’t want to speak or go deeper, but I think they crave it because that’s the generation that’s missing out on face to face communication mostly I think because their friends are texting them instead of calling them and
Sharon: Yeah, they’re not getting it even from their friends. That’s the hard part, you know? I mean, it breaks my heart sometimes. My, my daughter’s friends will come over and I have to physically take away their phones because they’re, even during a playdate, they want to be using technology in a way that I don’t think is really healthy for them or necessary, you know, and it’s hard in the winter to really just go out and play, you know, I get that. But there’s lots to do at home, find it, you know, play a game. But this is actually something that I think could help. I mean, I know you planned it for like families during mealtime, but I could see having my daughter with a sleepover, you know, saying, hey, why don’t you guys all play this game together?
Jennifer: I love that you just said that you and I had not talked about this, so one of my visions is together for sleep overs, so I have, if you look at the front of my game, it’s, my tagline is, well togather together to grow as one of my taglines, but the explanation on the front says a game to plant and harvest moments with families around the table and the carrot, there’s a little carrot with the words with family is popping up, said that I designed it that way so that we could have versions down the road, more versions. So I launched in May of 2018 and over last summer we launched togather for lunch, which is a game to plant and harvest moments with your child in their lunch bags. So those are all stickers to send. There’s um, four sheets in there. Two sheets are for you to send positive words to your child in their lunch bags.
So something like, I just sent this, um, a song that reminds me of you is, and you write it in on the sticker. Think of a song that reminds you of me and we’ll talk about it when you get home or whatever. That’s one. And then there’s a whole set of stickers that are just conversation starters for them to pull out with their friends at lunch in the cafeteria, so then I did together for advent of that was just obviously a seasonal thing. Togather for Easter is coming out and then I have lots of ideas Togather for a date night, Togather for sleepovers, um, togather for the workplace, that people have reached out to me about, like an HR and they said, please make me something. I’m so sick of creating icebreakers.
Sharon: Sounds really cool. I love it. So yes, I think there’s an opportunity out there for everybody. Um, well I’m really excited about it. I think it sounds really awesome. Um, you okay. Have something that you want to offer the audience and I would love for you to also share how they can purchase the game if they’re interested or how they can find you and connect with you.
Jennifer: Okay. So, um, my business is Togather moments, our website is Togathermoments.com. We are found on instagram and facebook at together moments. My name is Jennifer Zumbiel all and you are welcome to direct message me. Send me an email through our website if you have any questions. And also we have a category sampler. So if you go to to gather moments.com/try just try, you can get a free printable, have one sticker from each of our seven categories so you can kind of get an idea of what that is. Now obviously we cannot send you downloadable sticker paper, say you have to use your imagination on that one, but the game itself is of course stickers.
Sharon: Yeah, that sounds really cool. And I’ll put all the links to everything that you just mentioned in the show notes in case somebody needs to find it. Um, and um, thank you so much for being here. I really enjoyed this chat and I’m excited to try the game myself.
Jennifer: We can make that happen. Thank you so much for having me, Sharon. I think you’re doing great things for families. Thank you.
Thanks for listening to the Raiseology podcast head over to www.Raiseology.com, where you’ll find plenty of. You’ve got this resources for parents and any links or tools mentioned it today. Show. Be sure to hit subscribe on your podcatcher so that you can listen to the next episode the minute it’s out. Until next time, have an empowered week.
Meet Your Mentor
Sharon is a general pediatrician, loving wife and mother to 4 daughters.
After a decade of practicing general pediatrics and working with families, she realized there often wasn’t enough time while tending to children’s medical needs to help parents in the way that would be most helpful in shaping their children’s futures.
The Raiseology Program was developed to teach parents how to raise their children with the love and authority necessary to promote resilience and responsibility.
Sharon’s experience with hundreds of families as well as her own help her meet you where you are on your parenting journey to help you make it what you want it to be.
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