My kids are good little people, but they’re still young enough that dinnertime can be anything but relaxing. Cups of water are spilled, “green things” need to be picked off pizza, and food needs to be cut up into the right sizes and shapes.
Yes, manners are stressed in our house. Our children help clear the table and clean up what they can. But they’re kids, and we can’t expect them to have perfectly civilized dinners that don’t require a good deal of parental involvement.
We try to do family dinners as much as possible, and when my husband comes home at an early enough hour, that can be accomplished. But whether my husband is home to help or not, the burden of cooking, serving and helping the children with all their food-related shenanigans often falls on me.
My husband is a great, highly involved dad, but I’m the primary chef in the family, and I know my way around our kitchen much better than he does. He’ll jump up and fetch our kids a water refill (or clean up one of the inevitable water spills!), but he doesn’t really know how to set up dinner and serve it the way I can.
For a while, I kept this from others like a shameful secret.
So, over the years, I’ve resigned myself to my role as dinner referee, and I just end up eating my dinner after everyone else does, separately from my family.
While I’m serving everyone else, I’ll set aside a plate of food for myself. Then, after everything is eaten and cleaned up, I’ll heat up my food, retreat into another room, close the door and eat my dinner alone in utter peace and quiet.
For a while, I kept this from others like a shameful secret. I’m a liberated woman: Why should I be on my toes for all of dinnertime, serving my family like a short-order cook? Wouldn’t it be viewed as humiliating and unfeminist of me to never eat dinner at the table like a normal, respectable person?
Lately, though, I’m done with that guilt, and instead of hiding my little secret, I’m coming right out with it and saying that not only is eating separately something I do almost nightly, but it’s something I downright enjoy.
The fact is, being the prime chef of our family is something I choose to do—yes, of my own free will. I don’t always love it, but I take pride in feeding my family nutritious foods (well, as nutritious as my picky kids will eat), budgeting for our grocery bill and then filling my family’s bowls with lovingly prepared foods.
There will probably come a day soon when my kids can do more of the prepping and serving themselves, but I think any honest parent will tell you that it takes a while for most kids to dine without any parental help whatsoever.
So from now on, I’m owning the role I have in my family as meal server, and I’m also owning the reward I get after the meal is served and eaten.
Once I know dinner is behind me, and everything is cleaned up and tidy, I freaking love taking my warmed up plate and going to eat by my lonesome. My kids know that it’s “mommy’s turn” then, and it’s one of those rare times that they totally respect my space.
I eat curled up comfortably on the couch, enjoying every last bite in beautiful, scrumptious silence.
I know that this sort of arrangement is not something that works for every family. Some families find it more possible for everyone to eat together without one or both parents on their feet half the time. Maybe some parents don’t mind eating amid chaos. And maybe some parents just can’t imagine finding the time to carve out a few minutes to eat a separate meal.
But I would much rather first concentrate on my family’s eating needs, and then tend to my own. Eating a meal in broken chunks don’t feel satisfying at all, and this mom could use some good old fashioned satisfaction every now and then.
So do whatever works for you and your family. But as for me, I’ll be eating up reheated meatloaf in my family’s den at 6 p.m. tonight—and enjoying the heck out of it.