Family Dinners; living small; raising kids; living in a van.

How About Those Family Dinners?

These days Marty is grateful for whatever I’ve rustled up for dinner – which considering my van “kitchen” isn’t much. We kick back, relax and chat. It is a vast change from a decade ago when dinner involved 10 people every night.

The family dinner is a good thing for many reasons. I’ve known this ever since our first child asked, “Who’s my dad?” When else can you get everyone together to find out whose birthday is next or who needs braces this week. But for years the family dinner was touted as the cure all for every problem imaginable. Pick up any women’s magazine and you’d find study after study reporting that kids who participated in regular family dinners were less likely to do drugs, have sex, and lie. They were more likely to talk about their first kiss and go to college with the money they’d saved. Who didn’t want that?

The authors of these articles described family dinner time as a fun, cooperative experience. But who were these families?

I’m all for family togetherness and over the years we’ve had way too many family dinners. But after learning about the magnitude of this meal, I realized how off track I was.

Apparently most successful families never get home late from work or let things like soccer practice ever intrude on this sacred hour. Good for them.

These families gathered together each evening to bond, share humorous summaries of their day, and enjoy a delicious meal.

At our house the hour before dinner had me in the kitchen darting between kids as they wandered around like starving Israelites searching for manna.

Finally, I’d announce 10 times (because I got a lot of “what?”) that dinner would be ready soon. Two minutes later I’d holler, “Time to eat!” Marty usually found this to be the opportune time to disappear into the bathroom. Jake retreated to the farthest corner of the house to play his guitar at full blast, and who knew where everyone else was. By the time I’d hunted some of them down, dinner was a lukewarm wreck. Then with the way they shoveled food down their throats, and rushed off to get bored, when was the bonding supposed to happen?

Things needed to change. So, one evening everyone but Connor was at the table. He’d decided at that exact minute that the weed whacking he’d neglected all day was suddenly urgent. I insisted he sit down with us.

I explained that we were starting a new family dinner tradition. I asked each child to share what went well that day. Unaware of the sudden significance of this special time, Marty looked at me like I’d just told him I was pregnant. It’s not that he wasn’t interested in the kids special moments. He just figured the sooner the kids left, the sooner he could have an uninterrupted conversation with me.

The younger kids were into it. They had all sorts of fun experiences -- “I got to shop with grandma”; “I hit Dwayne with a water balloon”. Then we got to the teenagers. They just didn’t appreciate what I was doing. They spent more time rolling their eyes at stupid mom than it would take to sing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Finally, we made it around the table.

I was ready to call it good until Jake piped up with, “Don’t we get to tell you what was bad about today?” Of course, his “bad” thing was our new tradition.

And this was the essential, can’t-do-without family time?

Maybe some families were on their way to cozy chats about first love and college graduations, but right then and there I decided that if on occasion we ate standing up, grabbed what looked good out of the fridge, or didn’t have a new dinner-time tradition, I’d pat myself on the back for not telling them to eat at the neighbors. 

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