Before my first child was born, I envisioned having family dinners every night, perfectly balanced meals served family-style, where the children ate the same thing as the adults without complaining while we conversed about our days. If you’re rolling on the floor laughing right now or just rolling your eyes, I get it; I was a dreamer. Actually, it’s turned out that I really don’t like eating dinner with my kids … so I usually don’t.
It started when my oldest was a few months old. By the time we all made it home from work and daycare and had dinner on the table, she inevitably melted down for the night, two bites into the meal. Then came the really fun phase where she would only eat sitting on my lap. Not exactly conducive to a relaxing dinner. So, we started feeding her immediately when we got home, and either saving plates for ourselves or cooking a different meal after she went to bed.
My oldest is now almost five and generally able to sit through dinner, but her younger sister is really leaning into her twos, so the separate mealtime tradition continues. Not to mention, even if no one is actively screaming, family dinners go something like this: Children are served and start eating. I sit down with my plate, take a bite or two, and then:
Child 1: “Mommy, I need more milk.”
Child 2: “Momma, I don’t like this.”
Child 1: “Uh-oh, I spilled my drink.”
Child 1 & 2: “More strawberries, please.”
Child 2: “I’m all done.”
And there my food sits, half-eaten and cold as bath time arrives.
But, please, if you’re picturing neglected children sitting alone at the table with microwaved dinners they’ve foraged themselves, it’s not quite as bad as all that. I’m not going to lie to you, sometimes the meals are microwaved, but my spouse and I do hang out with them while they eat at the kitchen island. We talk about what they learned at school that day and what their favorite part of the day was. We listen to fun music from Dad’s eclectic music library and show off our best seated dance moves. Sometimes I get a head start on loading the dishwasher or prepping the coffee maker while we chat.
And then, when at long last when they are in bed, the two of us sit down for a quiet meal and uninterrupted conversation. It’s seriously amazing. My food is the appropriate temperature. I can hear myself think. If I have to get up from my seat mid-meal, it’s my own fault. No-kid dinners are also a great hack if alone time with your partner is hard to come by. Even a mid-week meal can feel like a date if you add a glass of wine and conversation that isn’t centered around your kids. If you want to take it up a notch, order delivery from a favorite local restaurant and indulge in an at-home date night, complete with comfy clothes and a streaming movie.
Might things change when the girls are older? Sure, I can picture a future in which we all eat dinner together regularly, a world in which they can refill their own glasses and get their own seconds. But if I’m honest, I think late dinners with my husband will be something we do, at least occasionally, for the long haul.