We do not require our children to sit at the dinner table with us, though most often they choose to. Sometimes they watch a YouTube video while at the table, and we ask them to turn down the volume. Sometimes they read a book, and we remind them not to knock over their water.
Often times though, we chat during dinner. We talk about our day, what’s coming up, and general stuff that is on our minds. The kids learn a lot during these conversations.
My husband is a geographer, and is interested in world events. I am interested in behavioral sciences; psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Our conversations were interesting and enlightening before we had children, and they still are. Our children ask lots of questions. If we cannot answer them, they ask Siri and we all learn something.
Sometimes though, while my husband and I eat dinner, Owen is watching TV and Sydney is playing Barbie. Sometimes one of them is sitting with us, and the other is not. Sometimes they both sit with us at different times during the meal. They come in and out of conversation, and sometimes Kris and I sit at the table for hours chatting.
As I write this piece, I realize that there is a lot that goes into my children mostly choosing to sit with us at the dinner table. It starts an hour or so before dinner with the questions; “are you guys getting hungry? Is there anything particular you feel like eating for dinner?” What they eat and when they eat is mostly up to them.
Some people are saying “I’m not making four dinners. You’re crazy”. Truth be told, sometimes we do make 4 dinners. I am not talking about making a Roast, Filet Mignon, Duck L’Orange, and Souffle (first of all, most of us are vegetarian). Four meals involve a main meal, and some other, easier stuff. Maybe it is left -overs, cereal, or ever-on-standby-soup. Maybe we make the kids a cheese quesadilla, or boxed mac and cheese. If they do not like the pesto pasta, we add red sauce instead. Sometimes dinners are eaten hours apart from each other.
Our kids are set up to want to be at the table whether they are eating or not; there is no pressure to stay seated, eat stuff they do not like, or continue to eat when they are not hungry. They are welcome to come and go as they please (or not come at all).
Some will say that my kids must be mannerless, rude, disrespectful ogres who have no idea how to interact or eat with others. This simply is not true. While we all have things we can work on, my children are none of these things.
As my kids get older, we respectfully share with them what behaviors are acceptable and which are not. We tell them which foods are appropriate to eat with their fingers, and which require utensils. We remind them that napkins are better to use than shirts, and that ice should not be pulled out of a cup with their fingers. They are learning.
If we force our children to spend time with us, or eat when their bodies are not hungry, we are creating anger, frustration, and disconnect. My husband and I want to connect more deeply and authentically with our children, and for them to possess strong self ownership. We are learning that in order to achieve this, we have to create an atmosphere which supports this. Eliminating the “Family Dinner Table Requirement” is one way that we accomplish this.