It’s been awhile since my last confession (sorry about that), but I have a big one for you today!
My family doesn’t eat dinner together.
I constantly hear things about the importance of family mealtime and there are countless images on Facebook & Pinterest talking about family dinners and how essential they are to a healthy family dynamic. But we still don’t do it.
On weeknights my toddlers eat dinner together around 5pm (before hubby gets off work) while my husband and I eat around 7pm after the kids are in bed.
We could easily do a family meal at 6 or 6:30 but we choose not to. Why? because meals are not “quality family time” when there are rambunctious toddlers involved.
At first, it was really important to me that we all eat together. I would stress myself out to try to get dinner on the table at the exact time hubby got home, so that we would have time to finish before bed. Then I would constantly be up and down the whole meal, cleaning up spills or grabbing extra things from the kitchen, all while spoon feeding the baby. Little Man always wants whatever his daddy is eating, so that was a constant battle during meals as well. It was not restful, pleasant or a fun family “memory” that we were building. It was a stressful and annoying obligation. And it took up 90% of the daddy-time that the kids got in the evenings.
So we stopped having meals together. Now, when hubby gets home instead of being thrust straight into a hectic meal-time situation, he comes home to two, happy, PJ clad kiddos that are ready to play with him until bedtime. I try to feed the kids their dinner and get them all ready for bed before he comes home so they can have quality time reading or playing with their dad before they have to go to bed.
I’m sure as the kids get older meal times will become a great time for conversation and family-bonding, and I’m looking forward to that! But for now our children receive love through playtime, so that’s what we try to give in the precious hour or two with daddy they get each night.
It sounds bad and I’ve even felt guilty that we don’t have those adorable, Norman Rockwell worthy, sit-down dinners together but I’m done feeling guilty. This is what works for our family. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be.
I’m learning that loving on my kiddos and finding ways that we can build happy memories together is far more important than their ability (or lack thereof) to sit still at the dinner table by the age of two. I know many families that can do it and they have happy meals together with their tiny tots (I have major respect for them!), but that’s not our family yet. And that’s ok. I’m learning that finding what works best for our family is infinitely more important than keeping up with stereotypes and traditions, so we stopped family dinners.
Do you have little “quirky” things like this in your family that’s different form the “norm”?
We do suppertime the same way at our house :) We have family meals together on Sundays after church and Friday nights when we all meet at my MIL’s for steak and french fries. The rest of the time, the kids eat around 5:30 and Hubby and I eat later that night after he gets home. Because he’s a farmer, he usually doesn’t get home until well after the kids are in bed so eating dinner together has just never been an option. I really enjoy the way we do this though. Frankly, meals with children are stressful and annoying since I don’t get a chance to sit down and enjoy my meal. This way, the kids are fed supper and in bed and I get to enjoy “date night”/a meal alone with my husband after a long day.
Sounds like the perfect plan for your family! thanks for sharing!!!
We do have our dinners together. But if my husband arrived home later, I think I would definitely try out what you suggested. Spending fun time with daddy playing is more important than trying to force a quality family dinner time. :-) My husband gets home early enough that we can have dinner and then he can have time to play with our children before their bedtime.
that sounds PERFECT! I would love it if hubby got home earlier at night, but his schedule is very unpredictable. It’s possible that he will be home by 530 but more likely it’s 630 and sometimes even later!
Ana Sneed says
Thanks for this! I often feel guilt that I can’t ensure we all eat together every day. In a perfect world that would be my wish but even with having older kids our schedules get hectic with sports and such. We definitely try but I have to play day by day what we can and can’t do. Many times our children are eating picnic style and on the run! =O
That’s how we were growing up as well! I have no idea what our lives will look like as the kids get older but i think as long as there is some consistant intentional family time it doesn’t matter so much if it’s around the dinner table or over a board game or in some other activity you all enjoy <3 sounds like you have a beautifully active family!
Bewildered Mother says
This is wonderful.
When we are actually together as a family for dinner (rare, since my husband works late), we usually eat together but let our 2.5 year old eat and run.
I love the idea of having happy, fed, pajama-clad children to greet their daddy when he gets home. I’m going to have to try it when schedules allow.
P.S. All that stuff about eating together as a family? I’m pretty sure that becomes important once each family member is living a separate life, when all the kids are doing different activities and don’t just play as a family together. A family that PLAYS together stays together. Once the kids stop tumbling around with dad on the floor, once their bedtime is past 7:30, then I think making family meal time more of a priority makes sense.
I like the “eat and run” phrase. That would definitely describe what my son does as well. Not exactly good eating manners, but he’s two…I figure he’s got time to learn ;)
Yes, a later bedtime would help a lot I’m sure but my kids seem to need 12 hours of sleep so a 7-7 schedule works best for us. :)
thanks for sharing your story with me! and for the encouragment!
Sounds like this is what works for your family, and that’s what matters! And I think the idea of having happy kids ready to play with daddy sounds pretty nice.
It works for us! …well I can’t always guarantee they will be happy, but I try ;) hehe
Beth Cranford says
Sounds like you’ve got it worked out nicely. I think that the quiet time that you and your husband are spending together at each meal is very important. The kids are getting time with him that’s much more enjoyable than eating, so that works!
We don’t eat together very often because my daughter (14) dances and student-teaches 3 nights per week. Add in Wednesday night church and weekend activities and you’ve got a lonely dinner table. My 4 year old eats before daddy gets home usually, so we’re sort of like you in that it’s often me and hubby. Your article has made me think, maybe that’s not so bad!
I don’t think it is bad (obviously). Family time is important, but where it’s spent is not as important as we make ourselves think sometimes. Sounds like you have a system that works for your family too! great job mama!!!
Whoa. I can’t believe how early your kids go to bed! I can’t imagine putting my kids to bed that early, and mine were/are early risers.
I can understand your reasoning about dinner time. That makes sense, even though we do choose to have family meals. You have to do what works best for your family, and if you need that much time alone, then I say go for it…lol
Well they are 2 years old and 8 months old, so they still need lots of sleep! they both sleep around 12 hours so a 7-7 schedule is what works for us. When they need less sleep I will gladly let them stay up later, and maybe we can even do meals as a family the :P but for now, this is what works ;)
I learned long ago that I have no right to judge, criticize, or look down on anyone who does things differently than I do. As I look back on dinner times when my daughters were young, I remember that they were not the idyllic, peaceful, well-mannered Norman Rockwell moments I hoped for. They were a good time to practice/train manners, conversation, and feeding skills. I set expectations low, so I was less likely to get stressed if everything wasn’t perfect. I do think those early years were training times that bore fruit later as they matured and were able to more fully enter into the conversation and interaction time.
On the days daddy wasn’t home, and I fed the kids by themselves, I found that I usually didn’t sit down with them, which meant I didn’t have the opportunity to really interact with them, reinforce their rudimentary table manners, nor would I remember to fold their little hands to say grace over their food. This wasn’t a big deal since it didn’t happen often, but if it did, I’d have to be more intentional to still train them in those areas, instead of just sticking food in front of them while I did other things. (Not that i”m saying you do this, but I know I would.)
I’m thinking aloud here, not with any real agenda, just thinking through what a different-than-ours scenario might look like. Thanks for sparking the conversation!
Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips! so helpful Lori!!! :)
I have super-low expectations for the kids’ mealtimes right now, but as they get older I will slowly start teaching manners, and eventually they will be able to stay up later without getting grumpy and we can all eat together so they will be learning by example as well.
sounds like you have a lot of grace with your kiddos, I enjoy reading your thoughts!!
Sounds like you are building wonderful memories together!
thanks for sharing! I will drop by your site!
Jenni Mullinix says
I like this ides, but have a question… Do you make two meals? How does that work? My daughter is almost 2 and eats whatever we do, so I’m not sure how I would handle that. :)
Not really two meals, I’m pretty laid back with what my kids eat, so they will have leftovers from last night’s meal or a sandwich or something. I usually let my 2 year old decide what he wants (within reason) or give him 3 choices based on what we have available and he can choose for himself what he eats. I prepare our dinner for the evening after hubby is home playing with the kids.
Melissa Cohen says
I gave up on family dinners a while ago. We do it on the weekends, usually a big Shabbat dinner. But during the week? Nope. With three kids, after school activities and a husband with a crazy work schedule, it just wasn’t feasible.
A big Shabbat dinner together sounds nice :)
Here from the blog hop!
I can totally see myself being the same way as you- trying really hard at first and then sort of letting it go as life gets in the way. It is impressive when people manage, but pretty unrealistic I think for most families. You are doing what is right for you and yours!
Thanks! I think it’s mostly about making it work for your individual family, and not worrying about the “norm”. What’s best for my kids might not be best for yours and vice versa ya know?
Since my kids were babies we’ve always had family meal time. At first it was just my daughter and me because my husband works nights, then my mom moved in and I had my son so most nights its all four of us sitting at the table eating dinner. I try to have everything on the table so nothing is asked for unless its extra food. They also help me cook dinner almost every night since they could stand and that helps a lot too.
I love it! Well done. I totally agree. We’ve got four kids. Sometimes we eat together as a family. Sometimes we don’t. I totally agree with what you said about it being better to spend quality time together than what society dictates should be the norm. I think that more women need to be like you, leave the guilt behind and get in with doing what suits your unique situation. Every family is different. They should do what’s right for them. Good on you for standing up and saying so! Love the article. Thanks for sharing. You’ve made my day!
We were a military family for years, so between deployments and loooooong hours, a traditional family dinner was a novelty. But we worked around it, so we frequently made breakfast as our family meal, whenever we were all starting our days at home together. By dinner time, it was whatever works, because we’d all be tired and everyone had different needs/schedules. My five year old asked me one night (during the 5th deployment) if she could have ice cream for dinner. I told her it has calcium and vitamin D, let’s go for it. We also had “family” dinners with other military families, where we’d all pull our grills out front, we’d all contribute to a weekly feast, rotating desserts/sides/meat etc. and all the (18+) kids played in the park in front of our base houses, and it was awesome. We learned to celebrate milestones and holidays in quirky/funny/meaningful ways as well, since we were frequently separated on the calendar day of celebration. Today, as civilians, we’re really close w/our kids, from teen to toddler ages, and they’re happy, funny, people w/great memories, attitudes, and stories. My husband missed years of their upbringing but they adore him, because when he is around, he is ALL in, no matter what meal/day/season! But now he’s the one asking for ice cream for dinner….. :)
Mummy Ed says
Totally agree! And actually Bruce Feiler in The Secrets of Happy Families said that researchers showed only 10 minutes of dinner conversation is actually productive, and I think if you have young kids that’s probably reduced to, oh 1-2 minutes?? :D
I had a similar blog post on this issue http://mummyed.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/coping-with-children-4-fussy-eaters/
THANK YOU a million times over for this post. I feel guilty too. I won’t anymore :)
This is great! Way to figure out what works best for you and lay the guilt aside. My kids are older (10-18) and we do have family dinners, but let me tell you they’re rarely Norman Rockwell! :) I don’t know who started the whole eat dinner as a family perfect fantasy, but I don’t think they actually had kids! #mamamoments
Cat @ MaryMarthaMama says
We do a hybrid of this. About 50% of nights we have dinner all together, and then the other 50% we get the kids fed early and then my husband and I eat dinner together once the kids are in bed. This is actually how we get in a lot of our date nights in.
I have always fed my daughter before my hubby & I eat dinner. When she is hungry she is hungry & thats that. Once in awhile it works out during the week where we all eat dinner together but doesn’t happen too often & I dont get to enjoy my meal cuz I am up & down a million times. We will have plenty of time to have family dinners as she gets older :) Glad we aren’t the only ones!
Lacey Schoeneman says
My boyfriend’s schedule changes weekly so we don’t do family dinners either. It gets too complicated with the kids and changing their schedules to meet his. This week, for example, he’s on a 2pm to midnight shift. Yeah, not keeping the kids up for that! So the kids and I eat whenever we feel hungry and I heat up a plate of food at 1am when he gets home. He spends time with them in the late morning before he takes off for work. Whatever works for your family. What matters isn’t how the time is spent but that it IS spent together.
Crystal Leon says
I totally understand. When my children were smaller and I was nursing my daughter. I would end up nursing everytime I sat down to eat dinner. It isnt much different now that my daughter is two. As soon as I sit down to eat with everyone she is in my lap eating mine. Some days its a bother but some days it isnt. We only get two family dinners a week. My husband works nights. All other nights are soup sandwich or spaghetti nights for the kids. I get more time with them and less stress than cooking a four course meal for kids who just want a pb and j. Each family should do what is best for them.
There is no need to feel guilty, because as you said, this is what works for your family. What works for one family doesn’t always work for another family and that’s okay. I’m sure when your kids grow up, they will appreciate that you did this for them, despite it being untraditional, so they could spend quality time with their dad doing things they actually enjoy doing! Kudos to you!
Tracey Field says
We do this too! we eat together on Sundays, but with all the kids activities, late nights for the hubs this is just easier. the kids and i often have car picnics at or on our way to what ever the practice of the night is, (and this saves us the “i don’t like that fight”) then the Hubs and I have a nice dinner of more adult friendly food and have “our time” after the kiddos are in bed. It’s really a special time for us, I almost don’t want to let the kids grow up enough for us to do dinner as a family. I LOVE our car picnics or pizza making nights, and I LOVE the quiet time with the hubs. :)
Great article & yes we used to do family dinner time. But now that my full time job got cut to part time & having to get another part time job, I am not home for dinner. So our only time we do meals together anymore is on weekends. Saturday dinner with my family & dad. Sunday morning breakfast after church & then dinner & then movies. So at this point in our lives, this is the best time to have that quality time with my family as I don’t get very much of it during the week. Big adjustments but it is currently working. But loved the article. Great points too.
Bernadett Galliher says
My family is the same way and I am so glad to hear that I am not alone because I have been feeling extremely guilty for not feeding my child at the same time as hubby n I . I actually send dinner to daycare and they feed him at 5 PM daddy picks him up at 5:30 they get home at six and I leave work at six and get home at 6:30 just in time to put him in bath and bed so he can be in bed at 7:30. I do look forward to the days where schedules will not be so rushed and we do have more time to enjoy quality time but for now like you said we do our best and keep everybody happy:)
Thanks for this article people always look at me crazy when I say we don’t eat dinner together as a family and it’s good to see I’m not crazy as so many others do it to…I find at our house time together as just husband and wife is rarely available so we choose to eat together once kids are asleep so we can enjoy some time together…plus as you said in your article dinner isn’t pleasant with toddlers it’s just painful :) I don’t enjoy eating at all as I’m forever doing things for them…so thanks for the comforting article :)
With an 8 yr old daughter and 10 yr old son with autism, we “opt out” of family dinner time as well. Schedules after school are crazy: Monday nights daughter is at dance from 3:15p-7p! Daddy picks her up. She eats a packed dinner with her dance buddies. Tuesday is singing club for both kids right after school….late pick up = less time for homework/ bed time/ play time. Wednesdays piano lessons 4:30-5:15pm…with traffic, not even getting home until 6p. Thursdays is tutoring for my son. 4-5pm. Hubby gets home anywhere from 5:30pm to as late as 7:00pm depending on the craziness of his day. I get up at 1am on weekdays and am asleep on a “good night” by 6pm…7pm latest. (Crazy schedule, I know…but I am an “extreme morning person.”) What we DO is EAT A FAMILY BREAKFAST. It is the only time of day we’re really all wide awake and together! Hubby actually reads Scripture and a Bible Lesson, then we discuss it for 5 min as a family. Kids are at the table for maybe 10 min total, but it is a ritual they have come to enjoy very much.
That’s awesome to here. I need to remember that too. Remember that it is ok if my family and kids don’t fit into what is norm. :) they don’t and ppl are always letting me know what their kids did or didn’t do at such age. It’s nice to hear other moms that have felt the guilt and how they let it go. I’ve changed too many times for what should be thanks the wording in your ending was exactly what I needed to hear right now as I am on a journey to reinvent my own family to do what’s best for us. Inspiring.
Debbie Robinson says
I imagine the perfect family dinner scenario is with older kids.
I have 4 children now 11, 13, 16 and 18. We do have dinner together at least 5 nights per week and i think it is definitely worth the bonding time. Not every night is “deep” conversation, but the only time they happen is during dinner around the table with no TV or devices.
I agree toddlers aren’t going to remember a pleasant family meal, but I would encourage anyone to aim for family dinner time once you hit the school years.
We don’t do traditional sit-down meals every day either. With our crazy schedules, it just doesnt work.We try to do a family “date” every two weeks but even then its usually at McDonald’s so our daughter can eat and play and not whine LOL. Typically we only do sit together meals at holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.