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I know, just the title alone is probably going to send Family Dinner Advocates racing to my house to inform me my kids will end up in prison if we don’t have family dinner every night. But I have lots of practice deflecting all the parenting advice out there, because truly, what I’ve learned, is that we each have to do what works best for ourselves and our families.
And sometimes what’s best is a little change of pace.
Don’t get me wrong, I love family meals; sharing good food with people is one of my favorite things in the world. And I absolutely thought I’d provide awesome family dinners, as a mom, even if I failed at every other aspect of mothering.
Unfortunately, I’ve learned that feeding children and enjoying family dinners can be like sinking in quicksand with no help in sight.
When my daughter, good eater that kid, was two, my son was born. For six months straight, that baby nursed ALL THE TIME. He would eat for an hour and a half, sleep for thirty minutes and then be hungry again, and again, and again. My mom lived with us, and I remember many evenings sitting on the couch nursing through the pain of thrush and my loneliness, watching my mom and husband cook dinner together. We ate in shifts, me rushing to shove food down my throat before baby was hungry again.
By the time my son was two-and-a-half, and we all sat down to dinner together, it was ridiculously horrible. Never in my dreams of motherhood did I imagine I would be awful at feeding my child. Not only was my son the pickiest eater on the planet, but he was the most dramatic and the most stubborn. The situation was not good for anyone. Family dinner became more like a battle every night.
I began to hate dinner time. My husband and I were totally stressed out, the kids weren’t enjoying it. No one was. And trust me, we tried everything to get him to eat what we were eating, even to the point of making super simple meals, that were bland and boring for the rest of us.
Something had to give, because aside from providing healthy meals for my kids and teaching them good eating habits, family dinners, any shared meal, should be enjoyable. In fact, I would argue, the enjoyment should come first, even before proper servings of vegetables. Dinner should be fun!
Because dinner is the time when we talk about our day, share dreams and ideas, use our senses to talk about flavor and aroma and texture. We laugh and tease and learn about each other. We make strong memories around those conversations, those bites of deliciousness. More than anything I want my children to create positive memories around the dinner table, not see it as a chore they dread.
Eventually, my husband and I decided not to have family dinner every night. We needed a break, at least once in a while, because family dinner at our house was going to result in prison time, most likely for me. So, one or two nights a week, we fed the kids first, put them to bed, then enjoyed a meal all by ourselves. I’m telling you, it felt like genius! And you know what, everybody was happy.
Both parents and kids need a break. Here are 5 Great Reasons Not to Have Family Dinner Every Night:
1 – It’s Less Stressful
Family dinner can become a dreaded chore for many of us, and a break in routine is often lifesaving. When I feed my kids first, usually something simple like mini bagel sandwiches with a side of fruit and carrots, it feels like a load off my back.
I don’t have to worry about the nightly battle to get them to eat whatever meal I’ve concocted for all of us. They don’t have to worry about being fed something they hate, like, god forbid, asparagus! I don’t have to hate the meal because I’m too busy battling them into eating what’s on their plate.
It’s like one huge sigh of relief.
2 – No Whining
On the nights I feed them first, I always make it something they enjoy, at least most of it. Even the veggies. My kids are okay with sliced carrots, sugar snap peas, cucumber and oddly enough even raw spinach. And occasionally, I’ll leave off the veggies completely.
It’s amazing, they sit down at the table and begin eating. No whining at all. It’s a parent’s dream come true.
3 – More Fun for the Kids
As much as they bicker and pick at each other, my kids also have a lot of fun together. Side-by-side on the bench at the dinner table is a silly time for them. On the nights we take a break from family dinner, they feel the weight off their shoulders too. They make up goofy languages with each other, pretend their carrots are veggie people, plan an attack on the dreaded, imaginary frittata that I’m making for my husband and me.
They talk and laugh and enjoy food together. Sometimes we sit with them, sometimes we let them have their own kid time and just listen in from the kitchen. Often the best parenting moments are the simple ones.
4 – Catch Up with Your Spouse
Probably the best part about these no family dinner nights for me and my husband, is that when we sit down to our dinner, it’s a time for us to catch up with each other, to talk about our days, adult to adult.
We’re not asking someone to eat their salad, again, or quit picking their nose, again. We’re not dealing with tears and fake gagging because they have to eat avocado, we’re not singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” for the fifty millionth time.
It’s just my wonderful husband and I, talking, laughing and enjoying a good meal together.
5 – Special Date Night In
At first it was just a relief not to be stressed at family dinner, but then my husband and I took advantage of the evenings and started making them special. Feeding and putting the kids to bed early means my husband and I get a date night, even if it’s at home. We find a delicious recipe, open a bottle of wine or make fun cocktails, put on music we like, and have a date night in without having to pay for a babysitter.
Cooking for a family and trying to fit everyone’s likes, dislikes and dietary concerns can become a chore, even for those who love to cook. Knowing that I’m going into battle when I sit down at the table makes it miserable. So, to take a break, and have that special time with just my husband, even gasp, mid-week is more than just a break, it’s a pleasure. We need that time to connect. Every relationship does.