do you eat dinner with your kids every night?… How about ever?

I just can’t seem to get in the groove on a lot of things these days, and so rather predictably, I missed yesterday’s Family Day, in which we were all encouraged to sit down and eat dinner with our children. Were I a better mother, I suppose I would be doing that every night, with or without the Director of the Commission for Drug and Alcohol Abuse’s exhortation to do so.  But the family dinner is, in my household at least, a curious and rare event.

There are two main reasons we don’t eat dinner as a family: my husband is never home at 6 pm, and I am not very hungry at 6 pm. But it’s not like the kids eat together, either. In the last year or so, I have figured out that any two of my children can eat dinner at the same time– but if all three are sitting there, it’s blowing bubbles in the milk and kicking under the table and three barely-touched plates. So every night, I have one in the bathtub, and two eating; or two eating, one doing homework; and dinnertime is relatively peaceful. I mean, at least food gets eaten.


I do sometimes feel a pang of guilt that I should be sitting with my children, asking about their days, and on those days I join them at the table. Then someone wants ketchup. Then someone wants salt. Then someone wants a different spoon. No not that spoon, the Dora spoon. Then someone wants more milk. Then someone spills his milk. I’m not sure who these mothers are that can get dinners on the table which pre-empt their children’s five thousand change orders, but I’d like to see one in action.


The only time the five of us sit and eat together is when we go to the diner on Saturday mornings. At least there, someone besides me can get the syrup and the napkins and the what-have-you. Those diner trips are fun, and I do see the merit of having dinners like that at home. I just feel like for me, they are a few years away.


How about you? Do you eat dinner as a family? If so, how do you manage to actually 1) sit down and 2) eat?



{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Meredith L. September 28, 2010 at 3:56 pm

When I was growing up we had family dinner together every night. At a dinner table. With my mom's cooking.

Sounds ideal, right?

Except for the part where my father insisted on having a TV in the kitchen and watching the news while he ate so that we all had to be very, very quiet. Nothing like listening to stories of the latest homicide or rapist on the lose while you silently eat your beef stroganoff at the age of 10.

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Amy Wilson September 28, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Yikes.

Beef stroganoff, though, sounds good. I should work that into the rotation. Forgot about that one.

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marisa1982 September 28, 2010 at 4:58 pm

We usually eat two meals a day all together (mama, daddy, 4yo boy and 1yo girl). We're not religious about it, I just don't feel like there's an option about it. I'd be spread too thin if I had to parcel out food to one person at a time, and it's easier for me to make food, put it on the table and yell, "FOOD'S READY!!!" to whoever's in the house. Which is usually all of us, because my husband works swing shift and leaves the house at 5pm… I was raised eating all meals together, and just kept doing it, I guess.

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Cynthia September 28, 2010 at 6:06 pm

My husband and I feel like it is really important and we are pretty good about it. Our kids are a little younger though- 3 years and 6 months. So, reading your post, I have decided to be mindful of not letting the requests get out of control. Maybe I'll give a last call for requests before I sit down. Not sure. But I have learned so far that if I can just be consistent I can usually put an end to the unwanted behavior. So thank you for the reality of what dinners can turn into as my kids get a little older.

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Ellen Painter Dollar September 28, 2010 at 6:31 pm

We have always tried to do family dinners (kids are 10, 7, 4). It's getting harder, with the kids involved in more stuff. My husband can't always be home before 7, so some nights, family dinner is me and the kids, and some nights it's all of us. A few things that make it work. 1) I set the table (or give this job to a kid), which is a big pain, but it ensures that utensils, napkins, and condiments are all right there. 2) I always include something the kids like on the menu but we all eat the same menu (no short order cook at dinner). 3) Our list of household chores that the kids do to earn allowance includes a bunch related to meal time — clearing their own plates, helping to set and clear the table, and not getting dessert until everyone is done. It helps reinforce the idea that dinner is something we all do together. 4) We have other rituals around meal times, like saying grace or focusing on one family member each night and saying what we appreciate about them. Again, it helps reinforce the meal as a communal thing.

But it's a challenge when piano lessons end at 6 or softball practice starts at 5:30. Four nights out of five the menu is something really, really simple, like mac and cheese from a box, hot dogs, spaghetti, etc. And I still pop up and down from the table more than I'd like.

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Courtney September 28, 2010 at 8:49 pm

I grew up eating dinner with my family every night, and so did my husband. So it's kind of ingrained in us. Also, both of our mothers are AMAZING cooks, and you wanted to be at those tables for dinner. Lucky hey?!

We only have one child, who LOVES food, and about 4 nights per week we all sit down together and eat dinner. On the nights we don't, it's because either I or my husband is not home yet when our daughter eats dinner.

So, I believe in it and look forward to it, but if it doesn't happen, I don't beat myself up over it. If/when we introduce another child to the family, I know it will only get harder until they get older.

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Steph KC September 28, 2010 at 9:13 pm

We eat dinner as a family every night, but since it's only the three of us, that's not too hard. We have a fixed dinner hour of 6:30, no TV on, no phone answering, no interruptions. My husband always gets home at 6 or before, even though it means he makes a little less than he would in a more high pressure job. I grew up with each person eating in a different room, in front of their own personal TV, so for me this is really important and it means we make sacrifices to make it work.

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Amy Wilson September 28, 2010 at 9:33 pm

I'm amazed that almost everyone who has responded so far is someone who makes it work. I just don't see it on my horizon, but no doubt I'm creating some of the chaos; my kids see me fluttering around the kitchen, grabbing a bite of this and that– why would they act any differently?

There also seems to be a "not optional" feeling, which I guess helps also– if you have to do it, you just do. Like First Friday Mass. Not that I do that either.

Ellen, you have a lot of good tips there. I think it's a slippery slope: I don't set a full table, since only the kids are eating (and not even all of them)– but then I'm running around grabbing things when they're already at the table.

Cynthia, I love your "last call for requests" idea.

Courtney, you're also on to something– in my house growing up (and my husband's), cooking was a pain-in-the-ass means to an end. Our mothers cooked us dinner every night, but it wasn't something they took much joy in. I'm still learning that it can sometimes actually be enjoyable.

Steph KC, we're not quite to the separate rooms with separate TVs, but I do see that it could go that way as easily as the other.

So you're all inspiring me to try a little harder, but I'm wondering from everyone else: are any of your households more like mine?

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Emily September 29, 2010 at 3:36 am

My kids are 10,6 and 1 I would say that we eat sitting down together as a family 4 or 5 nights of the week.

Walking in from work, the last thing I want to think about is dinner andit seems like we've always got a dance class or sports practice or something going on.

But like the others said, we make it a priority. For us, this is our chance to talk it out, decompress and just visit. Meals are by no means fancy. We have two options every night for dinner, take it or leave it. Since they are hungry they take it and I don't make crazy food anyway so it works.

I have to say, it would be so much easier to divide and conquer, but we use this time to bond as a family and to instill the things we want the kids to know about who we are and what we believe.

So I guess I'd have to say, it's a choice you have to make. You have your saturday morning diner meals and we have our casserole dinners.

Good luck! None of us have this mom thing figured out, that's what I like about reading your blog and everyone's comments!

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Anonymous September 29, 2010 at 5:55 am

There are as many solutions are there are families. One thing I would encourage is have the kids help with meals. I started cooking at age 10 and baking at age 12. Roll up hot dogs in cresent rolls, make individual pizzas with english muffins, make rice krispy treats, etc. Kids love to be creative!

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Nina September 29, 2010 at 1:24 pm

I have 3 kids and a step daughter part time (7 yrs and under) so mealtimes are always pretty hectic for me. I work evenings and hubby works days so I have to get the kids fed before he gets home and then I'm out the door. The only time we really eat together is when we go out. I do feel somewhat guilty that mealtimes aren't the quality family time they should be–but in my family it just isn't possible. I'm considering trying to make breakfast our family meal since that's the only time we are all together. It will definitely be a challenge. 🙂

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Courtney September 29, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Don't get me wrong, there are times when the whole sitting down to dinner thing goes out the window and Zoe eats mac n' cheese at 6:00, and my husband and I eat dinner at 8:00 p.m. in front of the TV, exhausted, on the couch!

BUT, when I get the opportunity to cook a nice meal (I am a champ at putting together a healthy meal in less than 20 minutes flat, all from scratch, it's my biggest talent:) I really enjoy it. We light a candle and put on music. It's just so wonderful! A lot of families don't really do that anymore, so I hope when my daughter grows up, she will look back at dinnertime as being relaxing and enjoyable, and not the chaotic disaster that it can be.

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Safire September 29, 2010 at 4:56 pm

We have a very chaotic dinner time ritual but it works for us. Most of the time, the oldest sets the table (she's 5) and then I set out ALL of the food/special requests/milk on the extra table in the kitchen. Then, when someone asks for something, I just lean over and get it off the table. No up and down!
Then everyone is in charge of asking to be excused and clearing their own place. Even the 2 year olds.

It wasn't always like this. I grew up in a house that had family dinner in front of the tv. And until about a year ago, that was us too. It worked, until my daughter (4 at the time) REFUSED to eat ANYWHERE without a TV. I figured that ought to change.
It's been a hard change, but a better one I think. I enjoy being with everyone and talking about the day. It's a good change.

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Taube September 29, 2010 at 5:14 pm

We have a family dinner every night. Well, my husband comes home halfway through, but I think that still counts. My twins are 2 1/2, and I have to get up 50 times during dinner. My trick is I just eat really fast! As for cooking… my kids don't eat anything fancy, so it's really just boiling water for pasta and nuking some frozen vegetables. I'm on Jenny Craig, so my dinner's done, and my husband's mother cooks for him and stocks the fridge every few weeks when she comes to visit. I'm not saying any of this is better than any other way (and it sounds like you're doing the right thing, since your kids are actually eating), but family dinners can be done. But you're gonna suffer. From heartburn and aggravation, if nothing else!

BTW, I LOVED your book!!! LOVED it!!!

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Practicing Mama September 29, 2010 at 6:33 pm

With three kids under five, I definitely have a love/hate relationship with the whole family dinner concept–which, even on the best of days, means the three kids and me as my husband is not often home until the kids are tucked into bed.

I love the idea, because it conforms to some Norman Rockwell-esque image that I've gotten lodged into my brain (I see you have too) and because often I can get the school lowdown more than at any other time. I hate it because, well, it is often a friggin' grind, with drinks being spilled and kids falling out of chairs and food being hurled from the high chair.

We did go on vacation this summer where all the kids either had to eat with their camp group or their babysitter and were not allowed to eat with their parents and I'll tell you, not having one meal with any of my kids for a whole week was pure bliss.

http://practicingparenthood.blogspot.com/

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Amy Wilson September 29, 2010 at 6:38 pm

I am fascinated by this whole discussion, and am preparing a whole blog post furthering it– but I'm not at home right now and I have forgotten my blogger password, cause I'm an idiot.

So much more later, but in the meantime–

thanks for the shout out Taube, and

Practicing Mama: WHERE was this wondrous vacation spot?!

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Heather September 29, 2010 at 8:40 pm

My first thought? If you starve them (non snacks allowed) until 8pm when everyone's home from work and activities, they EAT!! It's the most amazing thing!

I'm a shitty mom. Or a good one, depending on your perspective, because if they need something that's not on the table, the answer is one of two: 1) you're welcome to fetch that particular thing for yourself. (as opposed to my bitchy day "Get it yourself!!") or 2.) ask your sister.

Hell, my kids don't even get orange juice at breakfast.

I think your once a week diner time is perfect. Who's to say that that isn't exactly what YOUR family needs? Still, starving them is a sure bet.

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Anonymous September 30, 2010 at 2:46 pm

I think every mom chooses how she shows her love and commitment to her family. One of my ways is always having a healthy family dinner. We have a very strict "no technology" rule (hardest for my husband!) and I do set the table but still get up too much. All four of us eat the same thing, no debate. (Which means our meals are VERY simple. I value the event of the meal more than menu creativity.) I sometimes resort to bribery to get the pickiest kid to eat but also feel no guilt if I put a reasonable meal in front of him and he eats nothing – if he was hungry enough he would eat it (especially when his one-year old bother gobbles it up). However, I do think this is only one way to show commitment to your family and that there are countless other ways to show your love and have family togetherness that are equally valid. In short, it really can be done but don't beat yourself up if you don't do it!

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Courtney September 30, 2010 at 4:27 pm

I love that no one seems to be judging each other, it's refreshing. We all are just trying to do our best, and we know sometimes we should try harder, and sometimes we just need a break from trying to do whatever is in our head that we think we should do! I think this is a GREAT topic for further blog postings!

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Practicing Mama September 30, 2010 at 11:41 pm

The vacation spot is called Tyler Place Family Resort in northern Vermont on Lake Champlain–it was sort of a family camp and my friends all joked about it being like Kellerman's from "Dirty Dancing", which it kind of was. Its website doesn't do it justice and it was kind of expensive, but it was so worth it for the fact of not having to deal with the whole meal issue for your kids for a week. We usually don't even use the word "vacation" in our household, but opt instead for "time with family" (that's nicer than the "same shit, different place" moniker I throw around at times), but I can honestly say this was the first time since I have had kids that I felt like I actually got a bit of a vacation with the whole family in tow.

P.S. I also loved your daughter's comment about the diva and her blankie on another recent blog entry

http://practicingparenthood.blogspot.com

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