There are a few critical issues that seem to define our styles of parenting. Go back to work or stay home with the little ones? Rock them to sleep or let them cry it out? Private school or public? We try hard not to judge, of course, but some things seem to be lines drawn in the sand. So it’s always surprising when you think of yourself as a person who belongs on one side of the line, and somehow you find yourself on the other.
Here’s where I find myself on one of these big issues: we rarely eat dinner as a family. I’m horrified to say this (although evidently not so horrified that I’m unable to put it online) and I still can’t believe I’m in this situation. I grew up with a homemade balanced meal on the table every night and all five Ydels sitting around it. (Thanks, Mom!) Yet here I am twenty years later, sitting down at the table with Matt and John maybe once a week if we’re lucky.
I never set out to ignore the family dinner tradition. When John was little, he ate very early — around 5:00? — and it was too early (and too messy) for us to sit down together. Although I did have a cocktail with him, just to be polite. As he got older, dinner time was pushed back little by little to 6:00. The cocktail hour remains in effect, but I still can’t quite figure out to put a real dinner on the table for all of us at that hour. For one thing, Matt’s not always home, or he might just be walking in the door. For another, in order to produce said dinner, I’d have to start ignoring John to cook almost as soon as he comes home. Or at least this is what I tell myself.
Excuses aside, feeding John and then eating after he goes to bed doesn’t feel like the right decision for me. I don’t feel like a feeds-him-first parent, though I obviously am one. Putting aside the fact that I’m now cooking two entire meals after work every day, which is too much, I think there’s an enormous amount of value in a family dinner. Conversation, shared experience, and a chance to be still at the end of a very busy day. John is picky when it comes to food, but sometimes he’ll try new things when Matt and I are eating them too. I know that he’ll only get busier as he gets older — sports, friends, studying, or who knows what — and I’d love for us to be in the habit of spending time together before that happens. And it’s a nice habit for Matt and I as well. It’s too easy to go through a day without having an actual conversation. Dinner at the table together seems like a better idea on a lot of different levels.
I’ve made attempts to get this going, but they are short-lived. A Monday here, a Wednesday there, and we’re right back where we started. With trays on our laps at 9:00. Late July doesn’t seem like the right time to make a big change, but change is coming. I don’t know how exactly, but I am determined to turn over a new leaf when school starts. Healthy, balanced dinners for all three Jennings at the same time, as often as we can manage. I think it’s going to happen this time. Although it might require a second cocktail.
NPR on the family dinner: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18753715
Slate on the family dinner: http://www.slate.com/id/2195143