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'Are We Doing Family Dinner All Wrong?'

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Family Dinner is becoming a bit of a quandary for me. We have a lifestyle that allows for family dinner with ease. Everyone is available, we both cook, our children love to eat, it's all good. But I'm really concerned with content. As in, are we talking enough, do we have to talk at all? I keep reading differing views: some experts say to share 10 minutes of yourself with your children a day, other experts say use the conversation cards and make your children talk, others say if you even gather for one meal a week as a family your children will NOT be serial killers. I am torn as we eat almost seven meals a week together as a family. Do we have to have really high quality conversations? Can't we just pig out and run?

Thanks,

Dine & Dash

Dear Dine & Dash,

First of all, I'm guessing that scads of readers out there are going to have to suppress le bile when they view your "dilemma." Madame—or Monsieur—you've got it good.

I polled a lot of family, friends and friends of family about typical dinnertime scenarios when I was researching the differences between American and French childrearing. From the responses I received, I'm relatively certain that legions of American parents would willfully man the guillotine in exchange for a nightly scene like what you have described here.

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For many (and I'd certainly have counted myself among their ranks before our full-on Frenchification), dinnertime begins with a first course of threats (whether it's to get kids to the table or to coerce them to eat the broccoli sprig that is served alongside their noodles and cheese), followed with the entrée of bribes and ending with a dessert of … well dessert. To finish up, parents often opt for a digestif of regret. And this, by the way, is for those parents who get their children to the table. Considerable subsets have resorted to corralling their kids in front of the television or exploiting other forms of entertainment to keep the littles captive long enough to eat. I've got plenty to say about that, but this is not the issue you've brought to me.

I have heard of parents who dress up as waiters and pretend to take orders in a desperate attempt to get their kids to eat.

The only problem I detect here is that there's not enough wine in your life. OK, I shouldn't say that because I don't know you and maybe you shouldn't consume alcohol, but I am certain that you should relax a little. You are caught in the vortex wake that ensnares the best-meaning helicopter parents. I mean, conversation cards? That sounds so sad to me. Also, you are tottering dangerously close to those same parents who need external entertainment to get through a family meal.

I have heard of parents who dress up as waiters and pretend to take orders in a desperate attempt to get their kids to eat (OK, I might've even done that a time or two). However, after I summoned my inner Chief, I told my kids that dinnertime etiquette was non-negotiable: come to the table when called, sit down, try every dish before any disapproval will be heard (and rebukes of my cooking, by the way, are to be delivered respectfully), leave the table only when you are excused.

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Unless your kid mentions a budding ambition for a career as a hit man (or woman) or spends dinnertime throwing food, loudly passing gas or berating others, I would quit any worries about the "content" of your dinnertime conversations.

I know that my kids will never sit through a three-hour, four-course meal quietly and patiently like I've heard many little Frenchies can do, and that's fine. If my kids did that, they wouldn't be my kids. However, my French-inspired dinnertime parameters have brought on a new era of delightful, sometimes raucous but certainly reformed, dining.

Dig in!

Catherine

Have a French (or any nationality) parenting question for Catherine? Email her at mommecs@bermanbraun.com.

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