Meals at my house can be miserable. Lunch more than any other. One kid hates what I’ve put in front of him, one wants to sit on my lap and smear applesauce all over me and the other has chosen now to fall off her chair and suffer (it seems) yet another mortal injury. When the meal is finally over and the kids have been pushed outside to play, the floor is usually littered with peas and chewed up carrots, the table smeared with ketchup and the food on my plate is basically untouched.
And yet, everyday, every meal, I make a point of sitting down and eating with my kids.
Often times I am up and down, fetching dropped forks, more milk, towels. But it is a priority of mine to sit with my kids as they eat, so I always go back and sit down again.
But meals with young children really can be a true test of patience, endurance and fortitude. So, even though I continue to sit down with my kids every meal, I need to remind myself why. Why I don’t just put bowls on the floor and let them forage for food…which is what, I think, would seem more natural to them.
So, here are the 5 reasons why I sit down and eat with my kids every single day.
#1 It Forces Me to Stop and Sit
This can be a lunch/breakfast problem for me. There are so many things to do. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend this time getting ahead on the dishes, getting that meal into the crockpot, getting that load of laundry into the drier? The kids seem fine, I think I’ll just take a few bites and get back to work.
But, as any at-home-parent knows, the work never really ends. There is always something else to do/look at/clean/figure out and then the entire morning whizzes by and I can’t recalling stopping and sitting down at all. And I wonder why I’m tired and grouchy. But, when I do sit down and relax it is so worth it. Yes, eating with kids is far from relaxing, but there are moments. And without those moments days just sort of spiral on and on without a clear rhythm.
#2 My Kids Need a Model of Someone Who Sits and Enjoys Their Food
Even though he is nearly 5, Gus continues to be my problem child at meals. He likes very little, and admits that he likes even less. And now it is almost impossible for him to actually sit all the way through a meal. Our breakfast nook has windows on 3 sides (love it) but there is always something distracting going on right behind him and he is over at the windows smearing peanut butter on the glass as a robin hops in and out of view. It’s maddening.
I yell and I threaten, but he just doesn’t get why sitting is a required part of a meal. And so, in the most logical sense, this is why I MUST sit and eat my meals with the kids. Not only does Gus need to see me model actually sitting from the beginning to the end of a meal, but he needs to see me model good eating habits–you know, eating off a plate, eating with a fork, not just snacking here and there while I make food for the kids and grab another bite between chores.
#3 When I Sit Down, I am On The Same Level As My Kids
This is the real payout–the real benefit of sitting with the kids and sharing a meal; when we are all seated at the table we are all on the same level. Some of our best discussions (and worst fights) have come at the dinner table. It’s easy to look them in the eye and ask a question. Since I’m not going anywhere, I have plenty of time to answer questions or explain things a little better. Sure, sometimes (often) meals dissolve into screaming matches or fork battles, but there are always a couple of good moments, moments when we are looking eye to eye and sharing what only a family can share around a common table.
#4 Meals are Family Time
My husband, more than anyone, has taught me to love food–and part of loving food is sharing the eating experience with others you love. When we were first married, you know the 9 months before Gus arrived, we used to sit for an hour or two each evening and enjoy our dinner together. I treasure those memories.
Now with a brood of kids on the scene there isn’t quite as much enjoyment and relaxation, but we try. Once in a while we do a very simple Family Affirmation around the dinner table. It’s the perfect place to do this as every one is together and seated. I’m not going to claim to be some outstanding cook, but food and family meals are important to us. We often talk of those that don’t have enough to eat and we honor our blessings by savoring our food and eating it together.
It is my hope that the practices we have established now, of sitting and eating together, will continue all through my children’s lives. Years will come when the dinner hour is ripped apart by games and practices and rehearsals, I know that. In some ways, these are the easy days, the quiet days. But whether it is every night or only once a week, I want our table to be home-base for my family. And I want to sit there with them and look them in the eye and share a meal with them.
#5 Our Meals are a Foretaste of the Eucharist
I have had the joy of being part of a Eucharist Study at our new parish. I’ve studied the Eucharist before, and will study it again, but what really struck me the other day is just how important EATING is in the history of our faith. People are constantly breaking bread and sharing meals as a way to cement a covenant. In our world of overabundance it is easy to see food as nothing that special. There is always a fridge and a pantry nearby stocked with more food than we could ever want. Complaining about cafeteria food is just what we do and the idea of missing a meal is unthinkable.
So what is the big deal if I cram a burger down my throat as I drive or sit and relax around a table with my family?
Turns out the difference if huge.
I have yet to prepare a kid for 1st Communion, but when I do I want them to be struck by the fact that Jesus established the Eucharist as a meal for us to share as a family. That he saw the act of eating as something special, important and ultimate. And how will I be able to teach this lesson to my children if their whole lives they’ve observed a mother hovering over them at meals, in and out as she completes little tasks and only rarely joining them to actually eat?
No, I want to be there at the table with my kids. The messes will come, the terrible meals will not end, but I will be there, eating, talking and being with them.
Thanks for being here,