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Can Someone Explain to Me Why My Kids Turn Into Animals at Meal Time?

Photograph by Twenty20

Here's the thing: I've been a parent for almost a decade now. I have produced four human beings whom, on the whole, have pretty good manners. They say "please" and "thank you," they help around the house, they clean their rooms when I ask, and they are well-behaved in public.

But when it comes to mealtimes? They are absolute animals.

They slurp and eat corn with their fingers. They chomp and chew with their mouths open. They stand on their chairs and demand food by pointing their forks at each other, grunting in some sort of secret language only they understand.

Meal after meal, day after day, my husband and I instruct them to sit down, use your utensils, ask to pass the dish, remember your manners, SIT BACK DOWN FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THIS IS GOOD. And the single most irksome behavior at the table from my beloved offspring is a behavior that I still, to this day, can not understand. Every mealtime, without fail, morning, noon and night, my children insist on sitting sideways in their chairs.

Do they sit facing straight, so as to actually position their mouths over the plate that is designed to effectively get their food properly into their faces? Of course not. Instead, they insist on sitting sideways, their bodies pointing towards any direction but their plates, their hands flailing through the air, spewing corn and salad and bread and butter and chicken and broccoli around the house, splattering the walls, and littering my floors.

Try as I might, insist as I do, it's like their natural stance is to sit sideways, cross-legged, or upside down instead of sitting like a normal person on a chair to eat. And I'm at my wit's end. Maybe I'm just a terrible parent raising terrible children, or maybe there's a deeper theme to explore here: that children simply turn into different creatures at mealtime. And hopefully I'm not alone.

Like many things with parenthood, I'm trying to remind myself that there's a season for everything and that hopefully, we are just in a season where meals equals a learning experience.

What on earth am I doing wrong?

But on the flip side, I am so very frustrated. When I look at the floor after dinner and see a good hour's worth of work for me to clean up, I feel defeated. I picture a nice little family of French children, eating whatever they are served without complaint, taking dainty bites, chewing properly and probably even using cloth napkins, and I want to cry.

What on earth am I doing wrong?

I honestly don't know and I honestly don't know if there's a good solution. Maybe you're reading this and thinking that I'm a pretty poor excuse for a mother raising slobs for kids and maybe that's true. But maybe you're reading this, nodding along and feeling a little relieved that you're not the only one with horribly messy feral animals for kids at mealtime.

And if that's the case, I feel your pain and hopefully, we can get through this together. We can keep staying strong, trying to stay patient as we direct little hands to little mouths and little utensils. We can check our sighs when yet another glass of milk get spilled and encourage little people to clean up their messes and take pride in clearing the table together. We can plaster a smile on our faces when we remind them to please sit down and please use a fork and please use a napkin and not wipe their hands on their chairs.

We will keep trying to raise up these kids of ours into well-functioning, good-mannered children. And until then, we will stay patient 99.99% of the time.

And the rest of the time?

We will be hollering at them to sit in their chairs and just eat their food without spilling it for once.

Because after all, no one is perfect.

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