Monday, December 1, 2008

What's for dinner?

Family dinners- all the parenting experts agree it is one of the best ways to strengthen families and raise well adjusted children. Wanting to do all that we can to encourage family together time, we try to sit down to a family dinner every night if we can. Dinner at our house is practically right out of a 1950's television show, I lovingly prepare healthy, well balanced meals while wearing an apron and high heeled shoes. We all sit down to a beautifully set table with the children smiling and scrubbed clean. Tim sits at the head of the table and tells us all about his day at work. It is no wonder family dinners are such an important part of raising children.

A beautiful picture isn't it? But seriously, the reality of dinner at our house goes a little more like this--- I throw together something while tripping over kids, stepping on legos and toy cars, and dodging questions about what dinner is going to be. We sit down to a table with no silverware because I haven't gotten that far in setting the table yet, which is really fine because the boys' hands are caked with mud and they have to go wash them before we can eat anyway. Our youngest daughter usually brings a baby doll to the kitchen and has to set up her baby's meal of plastic pizza and cake before she can eat and our oldest often has her nose in a book and doesn't even realize the rest of us are at the table at all. Once we do finally say our prayers and start eating it is inevitable that someone, or several someones, start in whining about the menu. "I don't like lima beans", "My soup is too hot" , "The casserole is spicy", "There is something brown on my plate", and so on and so on....... 

Tonight for instance our three year old had a tiny bit of zucchini on his plate. Rather than eat it and be done with the unpleasantness of vegetables, he sat in his chair and cried for about 20 minutes, at the end of which he was fed the zucchini anyway! If whining and complaining are not enough, the table manners at our house are as atrocious as my children find my meal planning. It is not unusual for the children to be eating with their fingers, even foods like spaghetti or mashed potatoes. They grab food out of the serving dishes and burp repeatedly just to get a reaction. I wonder if this is what the experts are talking about! Can this possibly help my children to grow up well adjusted? Instead I fear it will push Tim and I over the edge of insanity!!!!!

Yet we persevere. Night after night, I prepare meals for us to all sit down together and eat. Night after night, we come together, as a family, and share this time with each other. In the midst of the complaints and disgusting habits there are moments when we really do enjoy each other’s company. There are opportunities to share conversations and re-connect after busy days. Dinner, like most everything else in family life, is often not pretty but it is in these moments our children know they are loved. It is in these little daily traditions and routines that they know they are a part of something pretty special. They are each valued members of this family, and despite their bad habits and grumbling they are welcome at our table. We wouldn’t have it any other way (though it would be nice if they’d use their forks!).

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