Is there any greater torture in the years of early childhood than the family dinner?
Ryan and I swear by the tradition of gathering all five of us around the table every weeknight for a sit-down meal. It’s what we each grew up doing, it’s what makes sense to us. Plus? It’s what everyone says is the right thing to do. It builds close families, it breeds communication, it teaches the value of a meal.
Cause right now…I gotta tell you. Here’s what it breeds in my house:
“Maelle! Sit down, you may not stand on your chair. No…no! Climbing on the table is not allowed! I’m serious, turn around and put your butt in your……….oh nevermind just get down. Here’s a piece of beef. Take off.”
“Bella, I am begging you. Please stop talking. The faster you eat, the faster you can get to the rest of your conversation, but right now I’m asking you to stop talking. Again.”
“Nik- do NOT put another piece of meat in your mouth without chewing that one first.”
“Please everyone! That’s enough singing!”
Cue two exhausted parents staring across the table at each other silently asking why.
And yet…we do it every night. We come home from working 8 hours, trade off who makes dinner and who listens to the stories of the day from the Ladies, and gather everyone around the table to eat a meal. Occasionally we ask ourselves if it’s really worth it. All this fighting, the ultimatums, the deals of “two more bites”, the frustration and stress…is it really doing the things we think it is to foster a good family relationship.
We need only ask our parents- the answer is yes. I can distinctly remember sitting around my own dinner table with my parents and brother, talking about the day or giving my opinion toward some family discussion we were having. It was a way to touch base. It was a way to keep us connected, however brief. It seemed mundane at the time, a chore when I was a teenager, a strange request from my parents to sit with them when they were frustrated from a long day.
What I didn’t see, what I never paid attention to, was the way my parents shoulders became relaxed over the course of the meal. The way they lingered at the table after the last bites were taken, hoping to squeeze out a morsel more insight into their kids’ lives. The way a funny story from my brother or an embarrassing anecdote from me would turn the corners of their mouths or make them laugh out loud…and how that would carry over to create a better mood for the rest of the night.
I can only imagine now that it was in those moments that they patted themselves on the back for keeping their family connected. Cause that’s how I see it. Tradition is a huge deal to me, and it probably started there. When we were sad/ mad/ happy/ excited/ sick/ stressed…it all came out at the dinner table. Even my silent brother would come out with his few trickles of information when prompted sitting to the right of my mother….and her fork. Which she wasn’t afraid to use, ahem.
And so it is with us…and it will be. My mom tells us that for a period of time in our young lives she never ate dinner with us. She would be at the table- fetching water, replacing fallen forks, filling plates and wiping mouths- and then she would eat her hot meal alone. My dad worked many long hours, I am much more fortunate to have my husband home to help around dinner time. And as much as it frustrates us, he and I will gather our girls each night even if it’s just for frozen pizza- and we will make them sit around our table and eat the dinner on their plates.
And while some nights are better than others, some nights dissolve into threats of groundings and being forced to eat your untouched plate for breakfast the next morning. Some nights we laugh til we cry at an unexpected story or hilarious comment. Some nights we grin and bear it while they sing ANOTHER song they learned at school. Because we both just get it. They’ll always know they can air their laundry at dinner. And as they grow, their laundry may get pretty heavy to carry. We are building the foundation that makes sure they know the first place to drop and confess and ask for help is at home.
Even if that means, in these formative years, the repetition of the phrase, “You were not raised in a barn.”