Dinner time around the table has often been portrayed as a very important activity that helps strengthen family bonding.
Multiple studies done over the years have shown that eating together as a family can enhance communication, improve the kids’ grades at school and even lead to decreased use of illicit drugs and alcohol amongst teenagers.
But this week, I want to throw all of that logic out the window and write about why my wife and I rarely eat dinner with our kids at home.
First of all, for anyone who has kids under the age of eight, you know that dinner time isn’t relaxing.
Sometimes the food is too hot. Other times, the food is too cold. One day they might like sauce on their pasta. The next day, you could be rinsing off some tortellini in the sink because its got sauce on it. And be prepared to cut their food into smaller pieces every three minutes.
You don’t go around the table and talk about what you did that day, because your four-year-old isn’t interested in what happened in the 10 a.m. marketing meeting. Eating dinner with young kids is a necessary evil and as a parent, you just want to get through the process with as little pain — and sauce on the floor — as possible.
There isn’t much positive communication going on that is going to strengthen any family bonds. In fact, most of the time we used veiled threats as a routine part of the conversation.
“You’re not going anywhere until you take three more bites.”
“No broccoli, no cookie. Do you understand?”
“You don’t like it? Too bad. I’m not making you chicken fingers.”
This is hardly the type of dinner-time conversation that would be endorsed by Dr. Phil. In fact, I think many parents would agree that our consumption of alcohol is increased after a dinner with young kids.
I also don’t like eating with our kids because it seriously inhibits my culinary choices. Eating with young children is like having dinner in a seniors home — where bland, tasteless food is often accompanied by a spoonful of peas. My wife and I love to eat a variety of food, but we can’t enjoy shrimp pad thai when the other half of the table is demanding Kraft Dinner.
So what we often do is give our girls dinner by themselves around 6 p.m. We’ll make them pasta, or chicken and vegetables and serve it to them without eating it ourselves. Often one of us will sit at the table with them, because inevitably, someone needs to be coerced into eating their meal.
After they go to bed around 8 p.m. we have dinner by ourselves. And we eat real food that doesn’t need to be drenched in ketchup or dipped in ranch sauce. And the best part is, we get to have a real conversation too.
And I think this is something that gets lost in our society. We place so much emphasis on our kids and spending time with them, that we often neglect spending quality time with our spouse. And in the end, a marriage and family is probably only as strong as the two people who started it in the first place. So having a chance to reconnect without our kids also promotes a healthy family lifestyle, in my opinion.
The nice thing about us eating dinner without the kids is that it turns into a mini-date night inside our house. Sometimes we watch an episode of Modern Family while eating some gourmet tacos.
Other times we’ll just sit on the couch and chat about what happened in our day as we eat our soy-ginger salmon. And often, we’ll just talk about big picture things like our finances (or lack thereof) or career aspirations we have, just to make sure we’re on the same page. Whatever it is, it beats the alternative of force-feeding a five-year-old some fish sticks.
I’d like to think that when our kids get older, we’ll make it a priority to have family meals at dinner time. But for now, we’re more than happy to cook two meals on a regular basis. It might seem like twice the work, but trust me, we feel half the stress.
How does your family handle dinner time?