I'm Failing at the Family Dinner

It seems the common understanding amongst professionals now is that whether or not your whole family sits down to dinner together once a day is the benchmark for how functional your family is. I've lost count of how many articles I've read that say it's a critical component: your kids will eat better; you'll communicate better; you'll be more connected . . . the list goes on.

I grew up in a home where this was the case. I have strong memories of my whole family (very nuclear - two parents who are still married, and us three kids) sitting down together every day for dinner. Now I know in reality this can't be the case - I'm sure some nights one of my parents had to work late or me or my brothers had an extra-curricular activity or dinner at a friend's house - but I don't remember those times. And, in truth, we were, and still are, a close family. We still have dinner together at least once a month - with spouses and kids in tow now - and truly enjoy it.

Whether or not it's true that's eating together is an essential element of family functionality, it's still something I want that for my family. I feel it's important. It's something my husband and I talked about and agreed was a value we wanted to incorporate into our daily lives. The reality is somewhat different though. My husband works at an office in the city. I work at home, in the suburbs. Often he has to work late and the kids always seem to be hungry right at 5. I know he wants to be with us for meals, but the nature of the work he does is that it can be unpredictable.

Even when he does make it in time our meals generally look like this: I slave over a hot stove (and/or put a frozen meal in the oven); dish it up; call the kids; they don't come; call the kids again; they finally come; they get to the table; they make a face; we convince them to sit at the table for five minutes; they complain; they whine that they're hungry; they don't eat; we finally release them; we start to eat; someone falls on their head/knocks the other one over/steals a precious toy/etc.; we get up; we don't eat. And repeat. Three times a day (five if you count snacks).

Every so often, though, I'll hit it out of the park. I'll serve something new, or try something we haven't had for awhile, or give a previously rejected meal a new look and a new name and it's amazing. The kids are happy and excited and chattering while we all eat together and share stories and jokes. It's the dream becoming reality.

But that's few and far between.

The question I have is: Is there real value in having us all sit at the table for those five minutes? 

One side of me says to keep doing it this way to make it a habit or in the hopes I'm logging gold stars somewhere on an imaginary good parent chart; but my "I just want to be able to eat in peace" side says to feed the kids something simple at dinnertime and eat by myself or with my husband later.

But I worry about that slippery slope - you know, the one you supposedly go down if you budge just a little. My kids thrive on consistency. I have (occasionally) been lenient on the rules in the past and the fallout that comes from it when I try to go back to the rules has been epic.

For now I think we'll keep trying and enjoy those rare "hit it out of the park" moments and continue to make the effort to eat together as much as we can. Hopefully, as they get older, a day will come when those moments will be the norm. 

Do you do a family dinner? If we don't do one every night, will we scar our children for life and turn them into non-verbal teenagers someday (or will that happen regardless)?

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