Why I Don't Eat Dinner With My Kids (& Why I'm Okay With It)
For as long as I can remember, my family sat down to eat dinner together. Every night around six o'clock, my mom would ring a cast-iron bell from our front porch. We could hear it from the basement of almost any house on our cul-de-sac, and we'd come running. It was the universal signal that the day was ending, food was on the table, and you best not be late.
Our kitchen table was nothing fancy - a brown wood oval with four chairs that glided across the 1980's linoleum with ease and that we frequently dragged across the kitchen floor so we could watch important TV shows; like the Olympics or a new episode of Seinfeld.
Most nights, the TV was off and we'd do a round-robin through our day; highs, lows, and in-betweens. Some of my most vivid childhood memories come from being around that table; memories of love, community, and belonging.
So it may come as a surprise when I say I absolutely hate eating dinner with my kids. So we've stopped eating dinner together and I regret nothing.
Have you ever eaten with a three and four-year-old? It's like being yelled at by an irate miniature Gordon Ramsey while simultaneously lighting your own money on fire. One or more of the following is almost always happening:
One kid is screaming that his culinary wishes were not fulfilled while the other is mashing his peas into a paste he can squish between his fingers
Forks are being dropped from the counter, forks are being thrown from the counter, and everyone is using their fork for the opposite of what a fork is supposed to be used for
I sit down to eat and someone needs milk.
Someone spills their milk. Then drops their fork. Again.
You get the picture.
So, I've stopped. I cook their dinner like the Short Order cook I am - whipping up chicken nuggets and tater tots like a champ. I steam their veggies, dice their fruit, and air fry pretty much everything else. I serve it up and I stand at the counter while they gobble it up; forks flying, tantrums ensuing, milk splashing. I ask them about their day and engage the same way my parents did with me. But I don't sit down and I certainly don't eat with them. And I don't feel bad.
sometimes mealtime goes okay but apparently only when Baby Yoda is invited
When the tornado subsides, I start our dinner. "But Liz," you gasp... "you're breaking the primary rule of parenting! Your kids should eat what you eat!" And to that I say:
Have you ever watched your kid mash-up Whole Foods Wild Caught Salmon to make a paste that he squishes between his fingers before letting the dog lick them clean? Or seen a kid tolerate the amount of red pepper chili flakes I enjoy in my Italian sausage?
HAVE YOU SEEN A CHILD ENJOY A HIGH-END BRICK OF MARINATED FETA?
Because those are the things I like to eat, and my kids do not. So I pick my battles and I make two meals. And when ours is done, I take it to the adjacent dining room. I enlist the babysitting help of Blippi or YouTube Kids and I sit with my husband for twenty God-forsaken free minutes and we eat adult food and talk adult things. And no one (usually) throws a fork.
And I'd be dramatic in saying those twenty minutes a night have revolutionized our marriage, but they've helped. I get my husband's undivided attention without the fear of flying utensils or getting up every minute, and it eases the anxiety I always had when later that night, bedtime would go awry; when I'd find myself stuck in the death-grip of a four-year-old until 9:30 pm, mourning the loss of any time to connect with my husband - knowing I'd emerge from said four year old's room half-asleep and able to give him about 3% of my remaining energy or attention for the rest of the night. We've learned to front-load our quality time. It feels like a win.
Proof he can be cute while eating, but also he is not wearing pants in this photo and it's 7 AM.
And still, I look around sometimes and I'm jealous of the families I see who have it together, who appear to be winning in other ways...especially in the Meal Department. Or seem to, at least. Those who can gather at the table for quality conversation and a shared meal. I know our time will come, and I also know the dangers of comparison-parenting.
The truth is, no one has it together. Forks are flying everywhere, guys. Milk is still being spilled even when you can't see it.
Some people just clean it up quicker. Or better or faster. Me? I just take my plate into another room. And that's okay with me.