When I was growing up, we ate dinner together as a family. My mom cooked, we set the table, and we talked about our day, without TV and without answering the phone. Obviously, I see the importance of sitting down to a family meal, and I clearly benefited from it. So, you’d think that I would be implementing the same tradition with my own family. But, I’m not…at least not yet.
Let me explain: My 3-year-old twins go to to bed around 7:30. So, they eat dinner around 5:30, which allows them to have some play time with Daddy before the bath and bedtime routine starts. But, see, I don’t want to eat dinner at 5:30. I’m not hungry at 5:30. Plus, my husband isn’t even home yet. Once we put the boys to bed, my husband and I sit down and have a quiet dinner together, when we have a chance to catch up and hear about each others’ day. I know that my relationship isn’t more important than my family, but this quality alone time is still essential to our marriage. It might also be essential to our sanity.
Also, can I say something? Eating with threenagers is a freaking disaster. They whine about eating the broccoli they asked for, they throw veggies to the dog, they shove massive, dangerous fistfuls of food into their mouths, then spit the chewed-up pieces at me. I mean, it’s not always like that, but enough that I’m not so sold on eating a family meal with them. How special can it be if I’m yelling, “No, stop it, eat like a big boy!” while cleaning spit-out morsels off of my clothes, the dog, and the dinner table?
That being said, I know how important it is to sit down and have dinner as a family, with our kids. Research reflects that: Not only does it boost vocabulary and intelligence in children, but it encourages healthier eating and reduces the risk of obesity. It also makes families closer, obviously. Of course, I sit down with my kids while they’re eating their dinner, and sometimes have a little snack. I might eat the same cucumber and hummus that they’re eating, or have a small bowl of their pasta. Now that they’re getting older, I can see how valuable this time is. They have so many very exciting things that they’re dying to tell me. They want to play number games and letter games and ask me questions. This is bonding time like no other, absolutely.
So does it matter that I’m not actually eating dinner with them, even though I’m present and engaged? Does it matter that my husband isn’t there? Is it weird that I cook different things for them than I do for my husband and me? I wonder if the value in a family meal is really more about the carved-out quiet time with a captive audience, than it is about actually eating together.
Don’t get me wrong: As they get older and bedtime gets later, we will absolutely sit down to family dinner together, once my husband is home from work. For right now though, as long as my kids are getting my undivided attention at their dinnertime, I’m not sure it matters.
What do you think? Do you do family dinner with young kids?