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.