Thinking back to the pre-children days, you probably imagined preparing gourmet tasty meals for your family. Then, you imagined that the four of you (one boy and one girl) would sit down to a hearty meal by candlelight, using the best dishes in your cabinet, enjoying nothing but the conversation going on at the table. Afterwards, everyone – even your toddler would help to clean the kitchen up together so that you can end the evening sitting on the couch snuggled up in blanket together watching a movie. Yeah. Right!
Now, you think about cooking a nice meal and become immediately stressed out. Not only does this mean you have to go out and buy a bunch of food like fresh asparagus and veal that your family will turn their nose up at, but you will also have to find the time to cook the meal amid screaming kids that are acting like wild hyenas. And if the cooking process takes too long, they will have invaded the bag of Cheetos you hid in the cabinet and fill themselves up on leftover gummy bears they find in the sofa cushions. Not only that, but getting everyone to sit down at the table while the food is hot, is a pipe dream. And so is the candlelight. And the conversation. Because the only thing you are likely, talking about at the dinner table is the rules and manners that seem to have escaped your children’s minds.
Introduce a not so spill proof sippy cup, a child who will not eat vegetables, and thinks that roasted chicken is the grossest thing on earth, an entire plate spilled on the floor during a tantrum, and you have a recipe for disaster. When the last person has left the table, you still haven’t eaten – and the dog is spending an unusually large amount of time ‘cleaning up’ remnants from underneath the table – you are likely left wondering why you even bothered to make a nice meal.
A nice meal? Why Bother? Could it be that this is a part of life that you will never experience again? Does any one truly appreciate (or recognize) the efforts that you have put in to preparing a nice meal for your family? Wouldn’t it have just been easier, and cheaper, and more convenient to just order a large pepperoni pizza and call it day?
Here’s the thing! You aren’t destined to a life without having a nice family meal together. You just have to change your expectations a little bit when your kids are young. Instead of putting so much effort into planning and preparing the meal yourself, in the hopes that someone will acknowledge your work – enlist the help of the entire family. Even the smallest members of your family can help in some way. And, rather than hold such a high standard in your mind of what dinnertime is supposed to look and feel like – be happy for the mini successes.
Remember that your dinner times will be a source of memories for your family. They might not be perfect. There will likely be a lot of spilled foods, arguments and turned noses at the food you serve. You will always have at least one person who isn’t going to like what you cooked, who may whine or pout or sit for hours in front of a plate of peas refusing to take one bite. And, it is your job to make sure that your children know how to sit down at a table and have a nice meal. It’s backwards to think that you can teach them manners anywhere but at the table. The conversation may not always be pleasant, or grown up, or even fulfilling – but there will be conversations. You simply have to take it in stages, and realize which stage of life you are in.
By the time your kids are old enough to sit down and have a nice meal, they will have so many things going on in their own life that sitting down at the table with you to talk and eat will feel like some sort of twisted punishment. And the conversations still may not be what you expect them to be. And your teenager may have fewer manners than your toddlers did.
As a parent, and as a family – it is important to not rely so fully on dreams and imaginations. Things don’t always go as you planned. But they do go….
And you should always be able to find some of the small successes in your life every day. If meal time is a bust right now, and not something that you look forward to – feel successful that you at least served your kids whole grains, or that they each at least ate a few bites of vegetables. In other words, be lenient with yourself. And with your family.
Believe it or not, mealtimes will get better. And you will find that as time marches on, your children will have appreciated your efforts at dinnertime (and beyond). There WILL come a day when they will walk in your door and beg you to cook them their favorite meal. Sure, it’s a long way off right now. And it feels like your current efforts to prepare a nice meal are falling into the laps of people that just don’t care or appreciate it. (Which is sort of true) But this phase too shall pass.
If you must cook a nice meal, and you want it to be appreciated – then take the easy road and order a pepperoni pizza for your kiddos, and save the candlelight, wine, veal and asparagus for you and your spouse!