Family Dinners: Joy or Indigestion?
The extensive research on the benefits of family dinners has seemed to define eating together as the make it or break it sign to raising healthy, well-adjusted children. I do agree that family meals have potential to be an opportunity to catch up on the day’s events and bond in the midst of our busy world. For years though, I have been challenged in my experience with family dinners and prefer to bond with my family in other ways. It is only recently that I have felt a shift.
When our boys were really little we would feed them early. After dinner some play, books and then bed. Next came much needed grown up relaxation time often complete with spicy food, red wine and uninterrupted conversation with my sweetheart. I thought this was the best of both worlds. As the boys grew though, things gradually changed. Baseball practices, homework, play dates and more pushed bedtime later. Eating after the kids went to bed was now too late. My partner loved the idea of having more family dinners and so I yielded to her wishes and committed to making it happen.
Often though, I have felt overwhelmed at the table. I always begin with the intention of being mindful and present with my loved ones but quickly slip into a state of constant negotiation. I become focused on moderating the noise level or making sure people take turns talking. I carefully watch for opportunities to teach and enforce appropriate manners. I commonly request slowing down the eating and remind boys to stay in seats…
My partner is much more easy going at the table and often joins in on the liveliness of it all while truly enjoying her food. Possibly the difference between us stems from her experience growing up in a family of five children and the commotion at our table is nothing in comparison.
Recently though, my expectations and perspectives on family dinners have shifted. I accept now that the joyful bonding I prefer to have with my family is generally not at family dinners. That acceptance has brought a sense of relief. It is the spontaneous talks on the walk to the bus stop or playing sports in our backyard or snuggling in bed on weekends when I feel closest to my children. It is the time alone with my partner when I can relax and gaze into her blue eyes that I feel most connected.
Even though most family dinners still feel like a challenge to me, I now appreciate a new significance. It is no longer my intention to find personal joy in the experience but to create value and meaning.
I recognize that eating together has fostered effective communication skills. Our boys are learning how to listen and learn from each other while keeping competition for their parent’s attention in check. They are becoming more patient. They are being exposed to the healthy foods my partner and I eat. They have learned cooking skills in the preparation of dinner. Setting and cleaning up the table with us is becoming a familiar habit and less like a chore to get them to do. Realizing that eating together has been instrumental in helping my children to grow and change in these extraordinary ways makes the indigestion totally worth it.
What is your family dinner experience? Share here.
Need inspiration? Look for a new column on Hilltown Families, The Dinner Table: Ideas and Inspirations for Family Mealtimes, debuting on July 1st, 2013! In the meantime, here are 12 Suggestions for Including Babies During Family Dinner.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shana Hiranandani shares a home with her two boys, her partner of 12 years, a big dog and a small cat in the Pioneer Valley of Western MA. Shana earned a B.A. in Psychology from UMass Amherst and a M.A. in Counseling Psychology from Antioch New England College. Shana is a Board Certified Life and Career Coach, offering consultations from her office in Florence, MA. Her monthly column offers parenting perspectives from a Jewish-Indian-American, 2-mommy household.