Family dinners have become a casualty of our family’s busy lives. We all eat dinner, of course. But slowly — and then all at once — we stopped doing it together.
There are a million excuses for why. I could blame the kids’ crazy after-school schedules or the fact that getting my 10- and 8-year-olds to wait until 6:30 p.m. to eat when their dad gets home from the office is a challenging feat. Especially when their cries of succumbing to starvation grow louder by the moment if dinner isn’t on the table by 5:30 p.m.
But the real lapse lies at my own feet. Simply put, I got out of the habit of making shared mealtime a habit. I stopped making it a priority.
It has been said that “perfect is the enemy of good,” and that is exactly what was standing between my family and a shared seated meal. I kept waiting for that “perfect” time to get the kids, my husband and myself around a table together — and it never happened.
It took my dear husband asking if we could try to bring the practice back at least once a week that it finally got my attention. I don’t say this often when it comes to anything food or meal-planning related, but here I go: Peter, you were right.
So last Wednesday — not a date of any importance; it was merely a day selected at random — we gave family dinner a trial reboot. It was honestly one of the best meals I’ve had in a long time.
The meal itself — a tater tot casserole recipe I got off the Internet — wasn’t that great, but what happened when we all sat down together and started talking was amazing.
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The real amazement started with the enthusiasm of my son, Declan, to set the table. He laid out a tablecloth and put out all the plates, glasses and silverware. He even remembered the napkins.
At first, Mara voiced her concern that we wouldn’t have anything to talk about, but after an inquiry into everyone’s day, the conversation tap that started off as a drip really started to flow.
The kids started telling Peter and me things that had never come up before in our daily rundowns — things the kids think about, stuff they worry about and exchanges with friends or teachers they hadn’t thought to mention before.
I sat there in near silence for an hour listening to the uncensored inner workings of my children. When dinner was finished, there was a not-too-small part of me that thought what a mistake I had made in waiting so long for the “perfect” night to have a family dinner.
It turns out any old night would do.
The overwhelming response was that family dinner becomes part of the regular rotation. On the other hand, my new tater tot casserole recipe does not. I’ll take what I can get.
Molly Cavanaugh of Channel 94.1 FM’s “Big Party Show” in Omaha is a mom to two children living in Chicago. She writes weekly for Momaha.com.