My husband has always worked long hours. When we were first married, eating dinner together was a luxury reserved for the weekends. It wasn’t because we didn’t want to spend weeknights together; this was just the nature of his profession. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. We did our own things for weeknight dinners. No schedule, just made what we each wanted to eat at whatever time we got home. Before kids, I accepted this as the norm.
When our first son was born, the importance of schedule became apparent and not just for the baby’s sake. Between working full time, my husband’s long work hours and my home responsibilities, I survived by our routine. Since it was just me with the baby around dinnertime, I would quickly warm up food for the little guy and ignore my own hunger pangs. There was such little time between getting home and his bedtime that I would wait to eat after he went to sleep. While it worked in theory, this routine didn’t sit right with me. As a pediatric dietitian, I had taught many parents about the need to be good role models and to let your baby see you eat. The point wasn’t just to get baby fed and on to whatever was next on the schedule. It was about the experience at meal times. We coo and cuddle with our babies while they nurse or bottle feed. Why shouldn’t the dinner table be the same happy place? I was worried about what my little guy was taking away from the routine I had set up.
So I made some changes. I started bringing food to the table for myself too. I couldn’t always put together a full dinner by the time he started crying for his food but even grabbing yogurt and a piece of fruit was an improvement. He would take a bite. I would take a bite. We ‘talked’. We slowed down a bit. I enjoyed him more than ever. When his little brother came along a couple years later, my first child was included in feeding the new baby at meals and this experience was a source of joy for both of them and me too.
Over the years we’ve made adjustments that accommodate the boys’ sports activities and allow my husband to be included at meals more frequently. Family dinner in our house is constantly evolving. We’ve even made breakfast the family ‘meal’ and that has worked well. As our kids have gotten older and changed, so has our schedule but the concept of family dinner has remained the same from the day we started it: sitting down together around the table is a time to reconnect and enjoy each other. However challenging that may be sometimes, we are committed to it.