Over the weekend, my little family sat together at the table to enjoy several meals together. I deeply enjoy when my family is sat down around the table, but it doesn’t happen too often. Breakfast I eat alone, since my husband doesn’t eat in the morning and my daughter eats much later than I do (she takes bubuh before she gets up, so she’s not hungry until at about 9AM). At lunchtime, my daughter is generally asleep by the time my husband arrives and when dinnertime comes, she is too busy playing and running around, which often means that my husband and I have to eat separately - because one of us has to join in the fun.
Family dinner is generally a much appreciated moment in families, and sadly, this often brings in some coercion.
|Image: Beverly & Pack on Flickr|
During the day the whole family is outside the house, so dinnertime is the only moment in the day that a family can be together.
We have been completely brainwashed by the “three meals a day” advice
Most families cook dinner in the evening, so they feel like it’s disrespectful to the cook if some members of the family decide not to partake
Shared food tastes better
We have grown accustomed to the idea that some rules - no matter how arbitrary - need not be broken
For un-/homeschooling family, this is an argument that doesn’t really apply, because generally at least one parent spends a big chunk of the day with the kids. Even when children do attend school, one can ask himself if sitting around the table because they have to is the kind of interaction a parent wants with his child. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to let go of a forced family dinner and join in the children’s play after eating? Forcing someone to join in a collective activity is not Authentic communication, or genuine togetherness. It is artificial. So if togetherness is what you are looking for - seek out your child, instead of forcing him to be with you.
Then how will they learn good manners at the table? How will they learn to appreciate shared meals?
Simply by observing yours. And it’s not as if they will never share a meal with you. If you give them the freedom to choose, you might be surprised at the frequency of shared meals, and you will grow to enjoy the ones you do share even more, because they are Authentic (and sometimes rare). As children grow up, they can be more inclined to eating together and might grow to value shared dinner as much as you.
Three meals a day?
I have said it before and I will say it again: the three meals a day advice is something that has been disproved over and over again. Yet it is a persistent bastard for numerous reasons - reasons on which I will not elaborate for the sake of the length of this post. In big lines, it is best to eat when one is hungry. Your family member will not all be hungry at the same time of night, and it would be quite torturous to deny a hungry child food just because you’re having dinner in an hour. For a small child especially hunger is very much a NOW thing, and their conception of time is different from yours. So if you tell them not to eat NOW, you might just tell them they won’t eat period.
As children grow up, their grasp of time does change, but that doesn’t mean their biological rhythm does, neither does it mean that they will not be ‘busy‘ when dinnertime arrives. Their busy should be respected as much as you expect them to respect yours.
I think the idea of children being disrespectful to the cooking parent is a big can of worms. I won’t go into this as deeply as I would like because I have been lengthy already and this post is not nearly finished.
First of all respect is something we cannot demand. It is something you can receive, but never by force. You needn't cook dinner every night to gain your child’s respect. You just need to treat him with the same respect you feel you deserve.
But maybe this whole respect thing is just a cover up. Maybe what you are really looking for is praise, and you might feel praised if everyone gathers around the table to eat you delicious concoctions.
I bet they are delicious and I bet you did spend time on them. But here you need to internalize your feeling of self worth. Cooking something delicious for yourself is just as important as cooking it for someone else. You don’t need an audience for validation, you can acquire that yourself.
Breaking the rules
Yes, you might get weird looks when friends come over and your child is playing while you have dinner. They might even remark it. But what is more important? Your family’s happiness or wether your friend thinks you’re crazy (probably they already do anyway). If you choose to go a different path, you’ll be raising eyebrows along the way. That doesn’t mean what you do is wrong.