One of my biggest concerns with starting this blog was/is that while I may have a lot to say about family dinners, I am definitely not an expert on successful family dinners. In fact, I may struggle more than your average person! I’m interested in family dinners though – how people do it, what works, what doesn’t. I like trying out new ideas for how to make it easier and more enjoyable. Sometimes my ideas are successful. Sometimes they fail miserably. And sometimes they make no difference at all. I’m hoping that by documenting the triumphs and fails here, my experiences might be helpful to someone else, and if nothing else, entertaining! And since fails are typically more interesting than triumphs (and I have far more of them), we’ll start here…Easter dinner.
One aspect of dinner that I simply cannot seem to crack is behavior. While my kids are pretty decent eaters (in that they’ll usually try what I give them), as far as dining companions go, they are pretty miserable. They eat with their hands, put feet on the table, pick their noses, get up and down a thousand times, go to the bathroom mid-meal (and then have to go back because they didn’t wash their hands), they demand whatever condiment is not on the table, they gulp their drink and then knock over whatever is left, they talk with their mouths full, they find reasons to get under the table, their hair gets in the sauce, etc. etc.
How do I handle all of this? Not well. I start out calmly correcting the behavior. “Please use a fork.” “Feet go under the table” “Do you need a tissue?” “Bottoms in the seat.” But by the 4th or 5th correction, the patience withers and the tension in my voice grows until I’m full on screaming for everyone to go to their rooms.
The “baby” is especially challenging, which is not surprising, but unlike his sisters, I can’t just send him to his room when he misbehaves. I have to accompany him to ensure he gets to his room and stays there for the allotted time. This means my dinner gets cold and I end up more irritated and angry than I was to begin with!
But back to Easter. I called them to the table – breaking up their game of family/baby dolls – and reminded them not to bring the dolls to the table. They reluctantly came, ignoring my reminder about the dolls. This resulted in the first battle of the meal, but eventually the babies were tucked into their strollers and pushed to the edge of the room.
The pound of sugar they’d consumed that day coupled with the fact that we were eating unusually early meant they weren’t particularly hungry, but we were having Honey Baked Ham, roasted potatoes and green beans, so I didn’t really think they’d complain. I mean, who doesn’t like Honey Baked Ham? I foolishly even thought they’d like the 7-layer salad my mom made. Delusional, I know – and I hadn’t even started drinking (yet).
The meal proceeded with my standard corrections – “Please use a fork.” “Feet go under the table” “Bottoms in the seat.” “Focus on eating, please” etc. Anna can usually sense when I’m about to lose it and will dial it back a bit. Julie, however, and Charlie too, seem to feed off of my manic descent. The real fun, for them, lies in pushing me over the edge. And yet, they both seem shocked and traumatized when I inevitably ask them to leave the table and go to their rooms.
Of course, the real punishment is not in the going to the room but in the knowing that dinner is over for them – including dessert. But it was a holiday, and my mom had brought over this giant chocolate cake, so after they had served their time, I invited them back to the table for cake. (Why we need Easter cake when we’ve had Easter candy all day, I don’t know, but Gram does what she likes).
Anna’s cake is gone in 5 seconds flat and she is off to the baby dolls once more. Charlie quickly follows. I’ve started cleaning up already when I look up to see Julie shoveling the cake in with her hands – the very thing she’d been sent to her room for not 10 minutes prior.
Now, you may think I’m horrible for what I did next, but instead of calmly correcting her for the 45th time that hour, instead of yelling at her, instead of asking her to go back to her room, I simply picked up her plate (conveniently, it was paper) and put it in the trash can.
Tears, flailing, gnashing of teeth. It was exactly the performance you might expect from a six year old whose cake has just been tossed.
I will spare you the details of the ensuing drama, but needless to say, I was the Worst. Mommy. Ever. Anna too, seemed to think I had been unfairly harsh. And maybe I was. I don’t know. Are my expectations of them too high? Or maybe I’m not demanding enough! Maybe I never should have allowed her back down for cake in the first place.
And herein lies my primary struggle as a mom. I swing the pendulum between feeling like I’m too strict and not strict enough – never knowing what the “right” thing to do is and never trusting that whatever my instinct tells me to do, might just be the “right” thing for me and my family. And that – the insecurity and second-guessing of my choices – is the real fail here.
But, like everything else, I’m working on it.
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