Sunday, November 29, 2009

Table for Three

I'm tired of dining with my kids. My gripe, and I should clarify, is that I am tired of dining alone with my kids. Don't get me wrong, the dining experience in general with this age group is not fabulous, but when you are the only adult at the table there's really not much upside. What I find challenging about dining with my kids is that I am not actually dining. I spend most of my time being a waitress. By the time I get everyone served at the table and food cut up, something has usually spilled or a drink needs to be refilled. I find that I am up from the table so often during the meal that I'm better off just standing at the island counter where I am within reach of any refills or cleaning supplies I might need. I tend to just grab my dinner when I'm "on break" from busing their table. Or I just wait until they are in bed and enjoy my dinner with a well deserved glass of wine and Access Hollywood.

But am I wrong in adapting to our situation? Dining alone with the kids is part of the culture where I live. Stay At Home Moms are not uncommon and most husbands I know are commuting into the city or traveling for work. I can't think of one husband I know who has a "9-5" job and is home every night for dinner. This week my husband is traveling for work, but even when he is in town, he gets home later than my kids can wait to eat. So, we've adjusted and I get them fed the best way I can. But with all of the research supporting "family dinners" being thrown in our faces, what are we to do? Am I hurting my kids because I don't have both parents (and sometimes no parent) at the table with them to eat? Some of these articles I've read recently would have me believe so. And that's not fair.

I get it - that mealtimes are a way to give and get undivided attention. And I'm not arguing with the research, the articles, and the public service ads running touting the positive effects of family dinners. Research shows that kids who have family dinners (some are encouraging at least 5 times a week) have better eating habits and views of food, better grades, less substance abuse, and stronger relationships with their parents. But, realistically families and lifestyles have changed and I don't think its fair to try to beckon us all back to the days of the Cleaver family. Is the act of eating dinner really bringing about these results? Or is it the conversations and modeling that are happening during this together time? With the ages my kids are, mealtimes are not the forum that they could be when they are older. An actual attempt at daily family dinners for me would likely be futile since there is very little conversation - there's a whole lot of spilling and cleaning.

So, to all of those "researchers" out there telling us that we need to have family dinners to have successful children, don't underestimate the other options for "family time". Its just food, and as I started to say, its just really not that enjoyable trying to eat with my kids. I would much rather maintain our routine of my husband joining us to read books before bedtime, or our weekend games of Horse in the driveway and walks with the dog to the coffee shop. I'm exempting those of us who have kids young enough to want to hang out with us from this research. I'll stress about trying to fit family dinners into an impossible schedule when I need to force my kids to be in the same room as me.

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