Perhaps you could put my mind at ease and tell me your family dinner time isn’t an idyllic experience where you chit chat about everyone’s day, sometimes sharing innermost thoughts and dreams. In my home, my family just cannot have a peaceful dinner where we all sit around the dining table like civilized human beings without interrupting each other, talking over each other, playing with the dog, going to the bathroom, kicking around a ball, or angrily negotiating how many vegetables need to be eaten. So I gave up trying!
Before the pandemic, my family didn’t eat many meals together, other than maybe a few on weekends. Perhaps we simply aren’t trained in the art of talking and eating with each other. Our schedules never permitted it, nor was there anything we could shift around to accommodate it, so I can’t allow myself to regret our history of a lack of mindful mealtimes. As with many families, though, our habits changed in recent times where we always seem to eat together, for better or for worse. It started off for better, and it quickly became for worse.
What made these gatherings go back to better is when we discovered the beautiful combination of mealtimes and movies.
Even though we have a lovely dining room, perfect for family meals, we now eat together in our living room where we sit at a foldable ping pong table that we never actually fold away. We put a couple of random chairs at the table, facing the television, which is a bit horrifying to admit. Truthfully, though, the experience has been quite wonderful.
Originally this seemed like one gigantic parenting fail. I couldn’t understand why ‘every other family’ has nice mealtimes together, not that anyone has told me that their family dinners are spectacular. I quickly realized, though, that this modification has been what my family has needed. My kids don’t want to be put on the spot after a long day, and they certainly don’t want to listen to my husband and me rant on about virus-related restrictions and bad politics. When we go upstairs to settle into our dinner and a movie, everyone is instantly put in a cheery mood. Sometimes if I sense my kids are chatty, before we press ‘play’ I ask them about something that happened that day, or even do a gratitude circle. They are more than happy to give me something, anything, when they know our chats will be brief and they can soon relax.
I am not condoning movies during meals, and as a matter of fact, please don’t follow my example at all – my family has atrocious meal habits!! I am just suggesting that we sometimes we should pay close attention to what our individual families need, not what we think we are supposed to be doing. My family actually does communicate regularly throughout each day in various ways, and surprisingly breakfast suits us quite well. A traditional dinner experience just does not work for us. Instead of forcing it, I set us free.
What can I say - nibbling in silence during Netflix with my family has become one of my favorite simple pleasures.