The family table


This month, I’m
tackling food as part of my year-long project to explore new monthly topics that encourage growth and self-understanding. My relationship with food, and motherhood has always been challenging for me. I think because it’s a tangible way to judge myself. I’m trying to let that judgment go, while at the same time instilling important family values in my children.

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Growing up my family ate dinner together almost every night, right until the day I left home. While it was never stated explicitly, it was understood that dinner at home wasn’t a choice. It was a priority.

Sunday usually invited the tantalizing aromas of a slow-cooking roast, and included all the delicious side dishes that are impractical for a busy week night. Today as adults with our own busy lives, we still often get together as an extended family for Sunday dinner. Tomorrow we’ll gather at my mom and dad’s for a homemade pan of lasagna. It’s comforting, it’s tradition, and I think it made a difference in our house when we were growing up.

When I became a mom I hoped to continue the Sunday dinner tradition with my children. Unfortunately, I haven’t been very good at it. My lack of commitment comes partly from children who are still young and who hardly eat a thing, but also from exhaustion just at the thought of preparing a traditional Sunday dinner in an already hectic week. I just haven’t been able to translate desire into action.

Sunday aside, we do eat together as a family almost every night of the week. Though it means my husband and I eat very early, and that dinner is often consumed amidst toddler tantrums and general chaos, I buy into the argument that dinner with the family helps children grow into healthier people. Meals enjoyed together reinforce a host of family values and habits, and send the message to our children that they matter, that the family matters. I also think it’s one of the most logical parts of the day to routinely protect to be together, free from outside distractions and pressures.

I’m the first to admit, however, that it isn’t always easy to do. As chaotic as our own dinnertime is, I have some measure of control over my children’s time right now. No doubt that will change as they get older. Kids are busy, parents are busy, there just isn’t enough time in the day. That’s why I’m focused on cementing this tradition while they are young. Weeknight dinners will be important and, as much as reasonably possible, we’ll make it a priority to eat together. But Sunday nights will be protected, everyone will be expected to be home. It will not be optional, just like when I was growing up. It’s a tradition that I think is worth working hard for and an investment in my family that I believe matters.

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17 thoughts on “The family table

  1. Melanie says:

    Great post. I grew up the same way. My spouse is a musician and works nights while I work days, but we try to eat dinner together every night and I hope to continue that if/when we have kids. I also use my crockpot often as a way to save time – might help on a Sunday!

  2. Leslie says:

    I love family dinners, whether we’re gathering with the larger circle or it’s just the three of us.
    We don’t keep a microwave, so we use leftovers for lunches and make dinner every night. I use the cook time to relax and get creative, and I look forward to sitting down with the boys – even if we are on the floor! 🙂

  3. I believe strongly in the family table too, even though I rarely make something elaborate (even on weekends). Heck, even if it’s take-out, we eat it together at the table. I’ve found that even when the kids get older and their sports and activity schedules threaten to consume us, we can manage to eat together almost always if we’re flexible about the time. So our dinner hour (more like 20 minutes!) alternates, and we do eat early too.

    • ShannonL says:

      I was going to write my own comment, but I think all I really need to say is “Ditto!” to Amy’s comment here! Hooray for family dinners (even if it’s only Kraft Dinner or leftover pizza!)! 🙂

  4. Chantal says:

    We also always eat together at the dining room table. I honestly never really thought about it, we just do it. No choice, no question. Even if DH is not home we eat at the table. I guess I am lucky that we have yet to have any major evening commitments that have interrupted this.

    I am particularly fond of the tradition of all of us sitting down to eat, and right at that moment one or both of the older boys have to go to the bathroom! LOL It happens every single night, and has been since they were potty trained.

  5. We manage Sunday dinner together, but usually that’s about it. My mother is appalled, but it’s just our reality. Good for you for making it a priority.

  6. Kelly says:

    I did not grow up with family dinners, but it is a priority for me and the family I am nurturing. I don’t plan to give it up, even when the kids’ plans are different than mine. It will remain a priority — even when it’s a pain.

  7. Stacia says:

    We do dinner together, too. And it always feels like a marathon with someone needing more milk, more pretzels, no crust, less butter, applesauce not apples, and on and on. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve also started Sunday brunch with homemade pancakes. There’s as much conversation as there are syrup spills, and I love that, too … Well, maybe not the sticky table. =>

  8. There is so much in this post, Christine. But the reality of family life is very different from our recollections of childhood, from the reality that we may have lived, from the reality we see depicted on television and in film.

    I am also for the family dinner – but my reality the past 10 years has made that an exhausting enterprise, and so I’ve done the best I could – and even now, with adolescents (and their crazy schedules), managing two dinners at the table/week is doing pretty good.

    I think we need to cut ourselves some slack. Our children will feel loved and supported if we give them our best – which is never picture perfect for any of us. Food is indeed love, and the discussions around the table, more relaxed. But that’s just a piece of the foundation we build for them and with them, and we need to remember that fact.

  9. So glad to read this today, Christine. My husband and I both grew up eating family suppers. And we intend to do the same with our family. But we haven’t done it yet. I wrote about this very topic last fall (http://tendollarthoughts.com/2010/10/18/1323/) and we still haven’t settled on the right routine. But it’s important for me to be reminded that we can make this work if we want to. Seeing good examples being set by other families really helps. So thanks for that.

  10. Mary Lee says:

    We tried to have breakfast and dinner together as a family when our kids were growing up. You’re right–once they start playing sports, it gets really difficult. I think it worked though–my kids do the same thing with their kids now.

    I LOVE that picture! So cute!

  11. Ironic Mom says:

    My best memories of growing up (and going home as an adult) are at the family table. When I got married, my parents gave my husband and I a cash gift. One of the smartest things I did was go to a local furniture maker and have him make us a table that will expand to sit 14 and chairs. The gift is practical and symbolic. And even on days like Valentine’s Day, when my husband made me the worst meal we’ve had in months, it still serves its purpose: a place we can laugh…at the bad food, at each other, at ourselves.

  12. Cathy says:

    I keep the family eating together as much as possible. We for sure did when they were younger, but now the oldest (15) has sports practice from 6:30 to 9pm every day of the week! But I do feel fortunate that we mostly eat together. I also feel fortunate that I love to cook and relish the opportunity to do something a bit more elaborate on the weekends. And, if I’m super duper lucky, hubs will actually cook on the weekends too – bonus! Of course it has to be on the grill or smoker which means during good weather only. Can’t be too greedy I suppose…

  13. Justine says:

    I so agree with you that the family dinner is really important and it’s something I’d love to incorporate into our lives. However, on weeknights, My Guy comes home around my daughter’s bedtime so it’s almost impossible to have us all sit together. We try to do that over the weekend, and Sunday dinners are my only chance of trying to get everyone together, as well as the opportunity for me to labor in the kitchen (something I cherish) for longer than a weeknight express meal. As lovely as that sounds though, with finite time between two working adults, we end up doing too much over the weekend and have often had to sacrifice the Sunday dinner as a result.

    But I’m not going to give up. Instilling meal times together as often as possible is still a goal of mine. Good for you for making sure your family has that – I know how difficult it is, and I am especially proud of you for making this incredible effort.

  14. Growing up as a kid, my father insisted we have family together. That was one of my favorite memories. I often think about the things that were mentioned at those dinners now that he is gone. Glad you are making it a priority Christine.

  15. Kameron says:

    I love that you value this as it is my number one rule. Dinner together and no tv on. Growing up I loved eating together as a family. Talking about our day helped keep the lines of communication open. I never thought twice to tell my mom things because it was all I knew. It is crazy when you are rushing home from work and trying to get nutritious food on the table, but we are proof that it can be done!

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