Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Good-Bye Family Dinners

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I am a firm believer in the importance of family dinners, and I know that there is a ton of research out there showing how much impact that has on children's development and their character as they grow older.

For me, a family dinner isn't just all sitting down together. I ban any reading materials at the table (a habit to which my husband still periodically reverts). There is no tv on (ok, so we don't have the tv on at all when the wee ones are awake). We have conversations on whatever strikes out mood, and sometimes they're admittedly pretty silly.

Beyond that, we stay sitting at the table until everyone is done. Just because you finished eating doesn't mean that everyone is done. I think it's rude to get up and put your dishes away or start working on chores when the rest of us are still eating (uhhh yeah, you caught me; I'm a slow eater). The family dinner to me isn't just about the food, but it's about the respect and the company and the time together.

I've drummed this into the head of everyone in my family, and it sticks there most of the time (my husband still wants to go do stuff once he finishes eating). To date, we've been pretty successful at the family dinners. There are certainly times when my husband is working way past the dinner hour, and it's just the wee ones and I. And there are nights when I have other commitments and am not home to eat with the wee ones, and I hope my husband sits and enjoys the time with them, too.

Last night was our first night of having this domestic bliss spoiled.

Little Miss had gymnastics from 5:15-6:15, so she was gone from the house from before 5 until after 6:30. Mister Man had his first Cub Scout meeting (anyone need Christmas wreaths?) from 6:30-8 so was gone from 6 to 8:30. Their dinners for the first time ever did not overlap.

It was bittersweet for me, a real moment that showed just how quickly the wee ones are growing up. I had to create two separate dinner times for the wee ones.

Luckily, my dad was taking Little Miss to gymnastics, so I could organize things. I had two dinners last night. I ate a mini bowl of ravioli with Mister Man and my husband at 5:30. At 6:30, I ate a second mini-bowl of ravioli with Little Miss while my dad watched (he had ordered takeout pizza for himself so decided not to eat with us).

As much as I loved spending the time one on one with the wee ones, it broke my heart to realize that this is merely the first night of many. Soon the wee ones will be going hither and yon on a regular basis where a quick dinner in the car while hoping to get one to a practice or game on time while trying to race to pick the other up from a different practice or game. Someday, the family dinner will be more of the exception than the norm, and I will mourn these days.

At the same time, I wouldn't hold back the wee ones and their development for anything. I love that they're growing up and becoming more independent. I love that they're discovering passions that will define them for years to come.

As much as I'd like to, I can't buckle them into booster seats and hold them at the table forever. After all, I'd bet they already don't even fit in those old seats. I'm not giving up on family dinners though. Every night we're together, the same rules will apply. I just hope we have more nights than not that we are together.

Welllll until they head off to college. I suppose family dinners then would get a little awkward.


Karen September 23, 2010 at 7:32 AM  

We had family dinners every night since we were married. It was awesome. Somewhere in the last 2 years though we've stopped. I don't know why, and I miss it. Maybe it's the busy schedules, like you said. But it's incredibly important. I agree.

MaBunny September 23, 2010 at 12:16 PM  

I agree with you on the importance of family dinners. Growing up we always sat down in the evening for dinner, and then on Sunday afternoons. Sunday evenings were a fend for yourself kind of night and we ate wherever.
With my family now that I'm the mom its hard to wrangle us all together. We may all eat together, but be doing ten different things. The together time for Nicole and I is usually after dinner, after dishes , we sit, watch a show, talk, do a puzzle or whatever. Its uninterrupted and some really good close conversations have come of that special time.

anymommy September 23, 2010 at 11:20 PM  

I agree 100 million percent. Family dinners are the one thing that I will fight hard to hold on to, but I can only imagine how hard it is when all the extra activities start.

Joanna Jenkins September 24, 2010 at 11:06 AM  

Hi Michelle, WOW!!! I thought I was the only one (along with my Mom) that had everyone stay at the dinner table until the entire family was finished! You are my new hero!

But I know how tough it is to gather everyone for a meal together when the kids start getting bigger. When that happened in our family, Sunday dinner became VERY important-- and we all really enjoyed it.

Glad to know "manners" are still being taught. Hang in there and keep up the good job!

Cheers, jj

Anonymous September 24, 2010 at 3:39 PM  

I loved the concept of the family dinner and we had plenty when we were kids.

Now when I visit my 70+ year old parents its them who want to eat in the living watch TV!

Go figure! LOL

Pat September 25, 2010 at 10:57 AM  

I feel exactly the same way as you do. We always ate dinner together at the table, with no reading stuff or having the TV on. It's one of the most important things to do for developing a warm family bond, a sense of belonging, buying into parents' values, and more. When the boys got to high school is when dinner was occasionally in shifts due to football practice. Even today my husband and I always eat dinner together at the table (sometimes not on Sundays). But I never had the boys in any sports except soccer, and they could walk to and from soccer practice. Maybe I "disadvantaged" them somewhat, but they seem to have turned out OK.

I think it's great these days if a family with busy kids can even have 3 or 4 nights of dinner together in a week. Any is better than none!

Michelle September 28, 2010 at 9:49 PM  

Karen - It is important, but oh those busy schedules are a nightmare. Here's hoping you get your dinners back someday.

Marcy - That's such an interesting way to do the Sundays. I kind of like it!

Stacey - Keep fighting. You have even more kids than I do, and they're all close in age - so lots of different activities at the same time, I'm imagining!

Joanna - Nope, you aren't the only one. It surprises some people when we have them over that the wee ones don't just bolt, but ... it's a good thing, I think!

Patty - Yeah. Where was this tv watching when we grew up? ;) My mom is still into the family dinners, although my dad isn't anymore.

Pat - They aren't disadvantaged. When you start to look at the kids now who are overscheduled and lose the ability to amuse themselves on their own AND they then have too much pressure on them, etc. Your boys did just fine!

Angela October 5, 2010 at 3:45 PM  

You're doing all that you can do. As you noted, they will necessarily develop new activities and routines as they grow, and that's a good thing. But at least if they have to eat on the go, you'll be prepared with lots of creative options for meals that travel easily.

And I've already explained to my husband that, once we have kids, his days of watching "Family Guy" from the dinner table and leaving me to finish eating alone will be coming to a close!

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