I like to think I’m pretty laid back in my parenting approach. I don’t have many things that are “required” on my parenting journey outside of staying out of jail, paying the bills, and trying to shower every day. I am not cool enough to go multiple days without a shower unless we are camping at which point I get close with my inner cave-woman. Yet there is one thing that I knew I wanted from the moment I knew that my family of two was becoming a family of something more. Family Dinner.
Everyone has that one bogus parenting fantasy when they are pregnant with their first. Perhaps the family dinner was mine. I pictured conversations, catching up on our day, the baby doing whatever it is that babies do in their high chair (turns out that is the main problem with family dinner…the baby does a lot of things other than eat dinner), and everyone having one time a day where they gather as family. Beautiful and sweet right?
Three kids later I’m still pressing the family dinner issue but my bar of expectation is ..well…different. For starters family dinner is often mom and three kids dinner because their dad works late. Still, he knows that on his days off he better have his body in that chair or his wife is taking a dive straight into the deep end. I mean, his wife is going to kindly ring the dinner bell and wait patiently for him to arrive at the table. Right.
In the movies the family comes to the table and eats, smiles, has amusing conversation, and feels fantastically connected. Let me adjust that image for you in a few “simple” steps to a real family dinner with 3 kids age 6 and under.
- Try to make the dinner. Have 30 requests for a snack during this process. Have 3 year old beg to “help” but really just sneeze into the food and leave you wondering if “heat from the cooking process” will kill whatever contaminates may have now been injected into dinner.
- Put dinner in the oven and ask kids to help set the table. Have 20 debates about who gets what plate color, cup color, fork color, spoon color…don’t even think about a knife. Curse yourself for buying the unbreakable but mixed colored kid place settings. Take that alarmingly sharp knife out of 1 year old’s hand. Turn on the TV in the kitchen so that silence will fall for the last ten minutes of dinner prep. Realize that you either forgot to turn on the oven or that you were supposed to take food out of oven 5 minutes ago. Improvise.
- Serve dinner onto small human plates. If husband is available ask him to pour drinks. If not..just forget the drinks. Who needs drinks? Not us. Also don’t worry about making yourself a plate of food. Way too soon for that.
- Turn off TV. Direct small people to their plates. Have the toddler begin feeding it to the dog. The preschooler will declare a hate for whatever you made and announce a bathroom break. The elementary student will scarf the food in the 30 seconds it takes for you to make a plate for yourself and ask for seconds or better yet ask for a Jelly sandwich or Bologna or something else completely not on the menu.
- Help preschooler wipe and wash. Turn to see dog on table eating preschooler’s food. Listen to preschooler scream in agony about the dog eating the dinner she “hated” three minutes ago. Find seconds for the elementary kid and firsts (again) for the preschooler. Ignore the baby with the plate on her head.
- Sit down at table and take a bite of cold dinner. Ask elementary student about her day and feel slightly pleased when you get a real answer until they start to tell you a story about kissing boys on the playground. Abort conversation. Turn to preschooler who wants to know when snack is, even though she hasn’t had a bite of her dinner. Look to thebaby who is now ready to frisbee throw her plate across the room. WHY DID YOU GIVE THE BABY PASTA SAUCE? She looks like she has a traumatic head injury!
- At this point the preschooler will tip over her chair. You should sneak another bite of dinner. The elementary student now wants Bologna again. The baby is standing on the table and heading quickly toward her preschool sister’s plate of food with feet of death.
- Declare dinner over. Be thankful you HAVE trained your kids to put their own plates in the sink. Yell at dog for eating the leftovers out of the trash can. Clean up bloody murder scene – aka marinara- off baby’s entire body. Lose track of where elementary kid went. Have preschooler ask when you are making dinner (try not to scream that they refused it).
- Repeat the next day.
Yet I do it. Every day. The kids will get bigger. They will get busier. They will get annoyed with the mom who forces them to come home for dinner at least 5 nights a week. They will get tired of squeezing around the table between sports practices and time with friends. They may never learn to actually eat but we do it every day.
It’s chaos. Pure Chaos – and yet – I believe one day I will look back and be so glad we did it. I hope they will too.