The Most Important Thing to Remember About Family Dinner Time

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Inside: The important thing to remember about family dinner time. Hint, it’s not what the experts tell you.

“A family who eats together, stays together.”

I read this quote on a blog explaining why family dinner time at the table is so important.

Great. Another reminder of yet another area in which I feel like I’m failing as a parent.

In our home, family dinner time stresses me out. Put a better way, the infrequency of a set family dinner time stresses me out.

I can’t even count the articles I’ve read detailing the benefits of families eating dinner around the table.

Nor can I count how many times I’ve been reminded that we don’t fit into the “normal” mold.

I used to think I needed to serve these big, elaborate meals on the table every night by 7 p.m.

Bonus points if could make it from real and organic food. You know, none of that processed crap.

But in all reality, that’s just now how it works for us.

I get it. We should eat together. At a table.

Does the Coffee Table Count?

According to all the experts and blogs on how to raise the kids, no, your coffee table does not count. Damn.

I see the benefits. I really do. Family dinner time is important because:

Conversation 

Healthy habits

Bonding

Teaching good manners

Laughing

All are important things that take place around the dinner table.

But sitting around the dinner table is not happening in this season of our life.

Table for Two, Please

Often, it’s just me and my daughter eating dinner together.

My husband works in a job that has him tied to his computer and phone during the evening.

It’s not like he’s playing games or texting. He’s really working.

Even though it is legitimate work, it used to make me angry. We’ve argued many times over it.

But the truth is his business dictates these hours. Sales numbers come in and need must be updated.

His team is selling on the floor at night. So he makes sure he’s available for them. I respect that.

He works his butt off for us. It’s taken time, but I finally understand.

How can I complain about it when it’s paying all the bills and allows me flexibility I want with our daughter?

The job provides so that I have choices, and I don’t have to accept a job that’s not a good fit.

I don’t have to take a job that spreads me thin, stresses me out and flat-out takes away any time or energy I would have to cook in the first place.

So yes, very often, it’s just me and my daughter. We eat, and my husband joins when he can.

If he doesn’t join, then he’s usually still sitting near us so he can chime in and take part in our conversation. Then, he eats later.

What’s for Dinner, Anyway?

I never make big meals. Since it’s just three of us here, even when we all eat, we don’t require a lot of food.

Many times, I’ve thrown out enough food to feed two families, because any recipe I try ends up being way too much.

I have one tiny, picky eater and one irregular eater, so I keep it simple to avoid having a lot of waste.

And by simple, I mean maybe two or three items.

So no, you won’t find any Pinterest-Worthy Dinners over here, either.

Chalk up another mom fail.

Sometimes, my daughter wants something kid-friendly, like grilled cheese or chicken nuggets.

I’m not usually interested in eating any of that because I’m trying to eat clean or low-carb or gluten-free,or whatever crazy diet I’m doing.

In those scenarios, I whip up her request, and usually, she’ll eat it sitting at our kitchen bar while I’m prepping my own sad, boring food.

This is what dinner looks like to us. It used to really upset me because that’s not “normal.”

I seriously worried that it would somehow screw up my child. I labeled myself a bad mom.

But Really, What Is Normal?

We may not sit down at an exact time each night with a plated meal representing all the food groups, but when it comes to loving each other, I think we are doing it right.

Why? Because regardless of what time or where we sit down to eat, we are happy.

We talk about our day. We ask questions. We laugh. We discuss successes, problems, and plans. We tell stories.

Conversation? Check.

Healthy habits? Check.

Bonding? Check.

Teaching good manners? Check.

Laughing? Check.

I grew up in a family that ate dinner together every night unless we were in the middle of a sports season.

With three active kids, my parents managed hectic schedules. So there were many times that dinner was on-the-go.

But if we were all home, we usually ate dinner at the table.

Sometimes, though, we had a thing we liked to call “Jump Up Supper.”

On the nights when my mom was just too tired to cook, we were all responsible for “Jumping Up” and getting our own dinner.

We sat around the living room, eating whatever we scrounged up, like sandwiches, soup or cereal.

We would talk and laugh, laid back and relaxed.

Mom would be relieved because there was no huge mess to clean up.

And do you know what? Those are my favorite dinner memories.

What Matters Is How You Feel

Once I started thinking about it, I realized that it really doesn’t matter where we have our family dinner.

It doesn’t matter if we don’t eat family dinner while sitting around a perfect dining room table with perfect place settings.

We can eat family dinner at the kitchen counter, or even sitting on the floor around the coffee table.

None of that matters. What matters is that we have a lot of togetherness.

We’re laughing. We’re talking. We’re fine.

This is us. We aren’t a “strict schedule” family. We are more “fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants” family.

It feels right.

I Bet You’re Doing It Right, Too

If you’re like me, you’re probably learning and accepting that doing it right looks different for everyone.

If you are giving your kids mostly healthy options, then you’re doing it right.

If you’re talking with them and not at them, then you’re doing it right.

If they are coming to you with questions and problems and stories, then you’re doing it right.

If they know you love them. If you are making the time for them. If they seem happy. Then you’re doing it right!

Do It Your Way

Sometimes, it’s okay to forget the articles and the experts. That’s what we end up doing when we’ve tried to adhere to a plan and it’s not working for us.

Here’s how we do dinner:

We talk. We laugh. We engage with each other.

We’re happy. And nobody goes hungry.

I guess we’re doing alright, after all.

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