My husband and I have to stay flexible with our fairly insane schedules. But, because of them, I've spent months of Kyle's (already short!) life racked with guilt over rarely sitting down to a meal as a family.
When Emily with Not That You Asked mentioned this exact "family dinner" issue on Twitter, I asked her to write a guest post on the topic.
I love her take on it.
I think my son Asher was seven months old when I started worrying about making Family Dinner a priority in our house.
Seven months old. Do you know what seven-month-old babies do at dinner? They cry. They wiggle. They refuse to hold their own utensils. They spit stuff. ORANGE stuff, and they spit it right onto your nice, clean, white shirt. (Someone tell me why they don't make bibs for parents who FEED infants? It would make a heck of a lot more sense for ME to be the one wearing the vinyl hazmat suit, you know?) But OH, the GUILT I felt sometimes for not orchestrating a grand, three-course meal that we could all sit down to together when my husband arrived home from work. You know, so he could eat it and I could attempt to shovel purees of seemingly unnatural combinations of food (peas and carrots plus OATMEAL? Are you KIDDING ME?) into a fussy, tired baby.
It took me a really long time to get past the idea that Family Dinner equaled Happy Family. Because it just doesn't. Guess what: Your family is not going to fall apart if you don't eat together every night.
Now, don't get me wrong. Family Dinner is definitely important. I look forward to the days when our kids will be old enough to participate in conversations about everything from school to current events to vacation planning around the dinner table. I hope that we're able to eat together often and I hope that it becomes something we really enjoy doing together.
But I refuse – REFUSE - to feel guilty if we can't swing it all the time, especially now, when my kids are small. Because when kids are small, they require help eating. They make constant demands that they can't get out of their own chairs to fulfill. They don't necessarily eat what or when the adults want to eat. I'd say 95 percent of our Family Dinners end up being chaotic, frustrating, stressful experiences, where one kid whines that he needs help and the other one secretly smears yogurt all over the wall behind her chair all while my food and Dave's food goes stone cold in the insanity. Yeah, THAT'S fun for everyone, especially when it escalates to discipline and stern warnings. (Have you ever cleaned yogurt off of BEADBOARD? ALL. THOSE. CREVICES.)
When our kids are older (school age) and we don't SEE them as much as we do now, then I'll make a concerted effort to gather them in one place on a daily basis. I do think that making that effort for them when they've got their own social agendas and activities is a Very Big Deal. When they're old enough to slam their bedroom doors and demand privacy and roll their eyes when I ask if they've finished their homework. I know that when they're older, dinnertime might be the only time I can demand their presence. And I most certainly will.
But right now? When they're little? When they can barely sit still for the time it takes to ingest half of a chicken nugget? I believe they get enough quality time with us without us having to watch each other cram food down our gullets. (That's what we do. Really. We cram. So it doesn't get cold.) I'm especially lucky, because I'm with those little beasts 24 hours a day. And although Dave works outside of the house, he does his best to make his time with them count. He spends his evenings (and some mornings) reading to them, taking them to the playground, roughhousing and tickling and laughing. We still talk to them about all the important things in their lives; we still make time to be together as a family. We just don't do it around the table.
There's nothing wrong with making dinnertime your family time, if you can swing it. Oh, how I ENVY you, if you can swing it! Perhaps your children can come over and teach mine how to keep their yogurty hands off the china cabinet! But remember that there are lots of other ways to learn how to connect as a family. Give yourself permission.
So, what's dinner like in your house? And, how was it with small kids?