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When Family Dinner Falls Apart…Almost.

I am no master at parenting. I do what I think works best for my family, something many of you do as well. I read. I listen. I compare tactics.

With parenting, it’s often trial and error, and sometimes blind ambition.

Tonight I experienced the first (probably not the last) teenage snubbing of our family dinner. What do you do when family dinner falls apart?

Like you, I too struggle with feeding my family at times. I think it goes with the territory of being a dinner

Perhaps through my story, you’ll be inspired in some way to stay the course with feeding your family, even if they snub an age-old family tradition like family dinner.

Here’s my latest family dinner story:

G, the varsity volleyball player, had a game tonight at 5:30 pm. No time to come home after school, as she had to show up to cheer on the JV team, which played at 3:15 pm. She gets home around 7:30 pm.

Mee Rose, the swimmer, also has a swim meet that began after school and ended when G’s volleyball game started. Sweet Caroline went to swim practice and My Little Man was off at soccer practice (yes, my life as mom/team parent is crazier than it was when I was working!).

Both older girls and My Little Man end up home for a late dinner. Father of the Year was commuting home and would make it for dinner, and Sweet Caroline was going to be even later, so I planned on reserving her meal.

I knew this evening was the craziest, busiest of the week, so I had slow cooked some beef with noodles earlier in the day so I could be ready for the late timing.

I call out, “It’s time to eat!”

Down comes My Little Man, excited and hungry for one of his favorite meals.

G yells, “I have too much homework, I’m going to make a plate and eat in my room.”

Mee Rose says, “I’m good. I have too much homework.”

Huh? What? Seriously? You’re not coming to dinner???

My two teen athletes were too busy to join our family at the dinner table.

Admittedly, I was not prepared for this. THIS had never happened until now.

I thought ‘You mean to tell me you want to eat alone in your room, staring at your books (and maybe your computer too) while I sit with My Little Man, and Father of the Year—a small fraction of our family– at our family meal table?’

I don’t think so.

To G, I say, “This is the only time in our day when we can be together. I expect you here.”

G: “But I have soooo muuuccchh hooomewooork, Moooommmmmmm.”

Me: “Well, then bring it to the table, but I want you here. This is our family time.”

Huff… puff… she almost blows her hair off while rolling her eyes at me. Down she comes with her Journalism homework.

She barely talks, her mouth on my delicious meal, her nose in the books. Eventually, we talked about some ideas for her writing assignment—she liked my idea about how teens using social media are not (in the traditional sense) really social—so something did come out of her 20 minutes at the table.

Remember Mee Rose, the swimmer, who said, “I’m good,” when asked to come down for dinner?

Said I, “I noticed you made something to eat when you got home from swimming, (which splattered grease all over my stove—I didn’t say that part) but I want you to join us at the table, whether you eat or not.”

Mee Rose: “Uuuuuuhhhhhhhhh. I can’t. I have soooooo muuuuuuccccchhhh hoooomewooooorkkk.”

Me: “You can bring your books to the table, and you don’t have to eat if you’re not hungry, but you need to be with us during mealtime.”

She came too, with her books and her not-so-sunny attitude, and decided to have some crock-pot beef, without the noodles. She actually lingered at the table to ask some questions about her homework, of which Father of the Year and I helped answer.

At a time when life is busy, the kids are growing up, and the time to connect is limited to first thing in the morning, time in the car, or the dinner meal, the family meal table is sacred ground.

Family-style meals have been a clear priority for our family, for many reasons. Only today had I ever received resistance.

This was a critical juncture—a place and time when my girls could have set the new standard on meal attendance, or I could hold steady with the expectations outlined years ago.

I’m not sure I handled it right. I just did what I thought was right— maybe I wasn’t.

I simply let my family values take over. It’s a top priority that my family gathers at the meal table, most days of the week. Because if we don’t, we’re just saying “Hey,” as we pass each other on our way to school, sports, work, and social activities.

And that’s not family, parenting, or connecting…to me.

Have your kids or teens rebuffed the meal table? How did you/would you handle this situation? Let me know in the comments—I’m interested in your thoughts.

Also, if getting meals on the table is hard, you have to read How to Make Family Dinner Easy When School Starts.

Fellow blogger, Katie Morford, over at Mom’s Kitchen Handbook, ironically wrote about the same topic this week–guess she’s moving through similar water with her teens. You can read her post here.

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  1. Great post. I think it was very creative of you – holding your ground about having everyone together…while also providing some compromise. There are days when there’s no family magic…but the consistency & commitment are key. I have two girls myself (15 and 19) – sports, etc. It’s a challenge some days and it’s not always perfect. But, at the same time, because of the consistency…most days, they come sniffing when it’s dinner time. 🙂 It’s a time that all four of us have come to rely on. And, like you said, it’s also one of the few times we can guarantee to be together.

  2. I’m not at this stage yet (I have a 4yo and an infant) but I really liked your approach. My instinct would have been to insist that they sit at the table without their homework, which probably would have been unpleasant for everyone and would not have facilitated the useful conversations about their assignments.

    1. Thanks! I think it worked out, and I saved the dinner–well, at least this one! Kids keep you on your toes, don’t they?