The Family Dinner

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.

Really?

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.”

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6 thoughts on “The Family Dinner

  1. This makes me sigh a happy sigh…number one because it reflects all too well our weeknight dinners in my house (and we only have one kid!). and number two because it reminds me of the family dinners we had growing up. Sitting at the table as a family for dinner has, and will, always be so important to me. It IS worth it! : )

  2. LOVE THIS!! I just recently started trying to make this a nightly thing. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes I can’t get our food on the table fast enough before LT goes to bed..but I am kinda proud of myself for making it faster. He is just 2 and we already have the hysterical laughter when he looks at daddy and says “dude i farted!”. We all crack up. He has learned manners of wiping his mouth, using a coaster, etc. Would he learn that just being by himself?

    I grew up with family dinner. No TV on the background…just us. IT was just the way it was. I remember distinctly the time a friend came over and had dinner with us. He was amazed we all ate together. Dumbfounded even. I remember being so proud that my parents did that for me :) Keep it up mama.

  3. We do it too – no matter how hard it may be sometimes! My husband and I were both raised with the tradition of eating dinner all sitting down together at a table. Sometimes we may have the grossest meal that was the quickest to prepare, or an elaborate meal that no one seems to appreciate as much as I think they should (ha!) but we are eating together, and together is what matters. When our girls started kindergarten last year , when we were eating, we started asking them what was their favorite part of their day and their not so favorite part of the day. Now they initiate it and ask us about our day too – we go around the table giving our answers and it gives insight into everyone’s day.

  4. we *always* ate together as a family. always. well, except for the nights when I was a slightly older child (8-12) and had dance class. Then my mom and I would eat early (5:15ish) and whisk me off to dance class, just for her to return home to eat with my dad.
    My sis went off to college when I was 10, so there were not a TON of whole-family dinners. But! My mom, dad, & I always ate together. It was a RARE treat to have the TV on during dinner. I always wished for that, so they would stop asking me about my day! (I might have been a moody teen…)

  5. Our family has to get better at this. Part of the problem is that we hate our dining room table. We didn’t think about having a child seated at a bar-height table when we purchased it, all we thought of is how tall we are and how it matched us. As of late, when we all sit together it’s at Laila’s little princess table and I’m amazed we haven’t busted the chairs yet (fingers crossed). Clearly, it’s something I want to correct in the very near future. I agree with you and when I was a child my family always met around the table and our conversations were priceless.

  6. I am LOVING all these comments, everyone!
    So fun.
    I don’t know why I thought we were the only ones completely unsure if we were doing the right thing. Like if we were arguing or disciplining it meant we were pushing an agenda that was missing the point.
    This? Is encouragement.

    Thanks!

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