I’m sure you’ve read the studies that say things like
the more often families eat together, the less likely kids are to smoke, drink, do drugs, get depressed, develop eating disorders and consider suicide, and the more likely they are to do well in school, delay having sex, eat their vegetables, learn big words and know which fork to use. – Time Magazine
Eating dinner around the table as a family is important. It’s extremely important to me, mostly because the majority of my fondest memories occurred around the dinner table. And not just on Thanksgiving or Easter. I mean the regular, old, gather-up-all-the-kids, put-away-the-homework, turn-off-the-tv, sit-around-the-table, everyday, weeknight dinner. Eat together. Laugh together. Share your day together.
But here’s the thing. As much as Benjamin and I enjoy cooking and preparing lovely meals, we usually eat them in front of the tv. We’re together, and we’re doing something we both enjoy, and after a long day of working and taking care of Owen, it’s how we decompress. Not going to apologize for it or say “Wah, I wish we didn’t do this”. It’s nice. We enjoy it. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. But we always said, as soon as we had kids, we would do family dinners right.
Even though we had a kid 18 months ago, family dinner is only now beginning to become a reality. Since Owen was 4 months old he’s been going to bed between 6pm and 7pm, so “dinner together” with enough time for Owen to digest before bed would have meant an afternoon snack for us, really. Benjamin and I much preferred to put Owen to bed early and then have a little time to ourselves, cooking, eating, watching tv. It was our time. And “dinner” with Owen, for many months, involved a parent sitting and feeding and watching and playing defense when the food was thrown on the floor, etc. It wasn’t exactly that calm, winding-down, enjoying-our-food kind of experience we wanted for our dinnertime.
But in the last few weeks there has been a transformation. It has been slow and almost imperceptible, but something is afoot. I can feel it.
1. Owen wants to chat with us. He wants to engage with us. Sitting eye to eye. He wants to use words.
2. The food throwing days are (maybe?) behind us. At least for the time being. Sometimes food still ends up on the floor, and once in awhile it is not quite an accident, but gone are the days (KNOCK ON WOOD) of mindlessly throwing entire bowls of food on the floor.
3. Utensils are Owen’s best friend. He still prefers his fingers most of the time, and still needs a little help stabbing things with a fork (especially the dull, toddler forks), but he will sit pretty quietly and eat an entire plate of food without needing us to feed him anymore.
4. He is a SPONGE. He copies everything from me choosing my clothes in the morning (now he’ll stand in front of my closet and point to different dresses and skirts and say, “Dis?”) to how I dry my hands to how I stand in front of the refrigerator. The kid misses nothing. And he is an astonishingly excellent copycat. If he’s soaking up our habits around food, I don’t want them to be that we grab a granola bar and run out the door all of the time. Sure, that’s inevitable sometimes, but I want him to soak up dinnertime. Sitting. With the family. Talking. Laughing. And enjoying that time.
So we’ve been trying to do dinner as a family.
At least on weekends.
So far, it’s going great (when I have a simple and quick dinner planned). Owen loves to help me prepare it (thanks to our learning tower) and then we all sit down around 5:30pm and eat. In the dining room. For half an hour. We ask Owen about his day and talk about the things we did. We sing, sometimes, since that seems to help him eat his food. We talk about the food we’re eating, and we all eat the same things. Sometimes I let him use an adult fork. He goes crazy for an adult fork.
When it works, it is the happiest time of my day. And the best part? While I finish Owen’s bedtime routine around 7:00pm, Benjamin has done the dishes. Which means that at 7:00pm Benjamin and I can sit in front of the television and put our feet up. Dinner’s done. Kitchen’s clean. Owen’s asleep. BLISS.
We usually have to follow up with a small snack of cereal or something right before bed, because hey, we ate dinner like we live in an old folks’ home. But that’s totally worth it.
Do you do family dinners? What age did you start? What’s your favorite meal to make that the whole family can eat?