I just did a Google search on the “importance of family meals” and over 75 MILLION results surfaced. One even touted “8 Reasons To Make Time For Family Dinner.” I know that the idea behind this article was not to make me feel bad about myself, but I also know that for some people, it did. Eight reasons feels like a lot when all we want to do is our very best.
A friend of mine recently made a relatively big move with her husband and 3 kids to allow for more time with all of them together. Her husband works very long hours and was hardly ever home. It was a great decision for their family, even though it presented other challenges in space, comfort and what was expected of them by their peers. Now, they have breakfast as a family. Most mornings, those three little kiddos spend amazing time with their dad who was previously out the door before they woke up in the morning. My friend now gets to share her coffee with the man she described as her “best friend” the first time she mentioned him to me. Everything about this makes me happy.
And they will almost never have a family dinner together.
Mind you, breakfast at their house is probably not much different than breakfast at my house. Minus the presence of my husband who leaves the house at 6:30am. Rousing of children, dressing little limbs, reminders of teeth brushing and packing of lunches. Nevermind the actual breakfast part. A blur of yogurt and pancakes, peanut butter and milk. Their family breakfast is not a leisurely Sunday brunch that we all dream about. But is their time together that they careful carved out of their lives. More importantly, they changed their lives to make it a priority. I bet their kids feel that every day without asking someone to pass the mashed potatoes.
I think that’s the point of the urgency to reconnect over dinner.
More than ever, we are over worked, over scheduled, over stimulated. I know that things have changed in many ways since I was a kid and even more so since my parents were kids. But it’s not all bad. I’ve figured out lots of ways to connect with my family. At the dinner table and elsewhere.
1. Last weekend, my husband was out of town. I took my daughters to lunch and, not wanting to eat and run, I spontaneously told one of my daughters to open her mouth and close her eyes. I proceeded to give her a taste of two muffin remnants on the table and asked her to properly identify what she ate. Not only did she guess right but both daughters LOVED this game and we ended up sitting and laughing for 30 minutes more than we would have otherwise. They can’t wait to play again.
2. I usually have a freezer bag filled with homemade muffins to throw into school lunches. When I’m running low, I will whip up a batch pretty quickly. If I’m lucky, I will catch myself before trying to plow through the task and invite my daughters to help. By now, they are very familiar with the recipe and one time, not long ago, one daughter made it nearly by herself. She smiled the whole time and we had that special time, when she felt awesome, together. The next week she told me she wanted to open a restaurant and make pizza and muffins when she was older.
3. Family walks. I often don’t feel like doing this (especially recently, when layers of clothing were involved) but we all come home in a happier mood. I have vowed this Spring to walk outside with my family more.
I think the point is not the time or day or perfect dinner time location. The point is the connection. Being right there in that moment with each other when we don’t think or care about anything else but what is starting us in the eye. And often, if I’m lucky, it’s a goofy, 5-year-old grin.