When I was growing up, dinner was a family priority. I’m an only child, so it was just the three of us. When I was born, my dad was skeptical about the whole fatherhood thing, but he said he would make a commitment to be home for dinner every night at 6:00. (And of course, he was very quickly won over by the grace and charm of my newborn self and abandoned all skepticism, right Daddy? ;-)) He would always ring the doorbell an obnoxious number of times and I would THUNDER to the door to greet him before we all sat down to eat. I don’t honestly remember what we ate or if we talked much, but I remember that we did.
As I got older and got more serious about swimming, dinnertime had to change a little bit. My practice was from 5:30-7:30, so my mom would try to make sure whatever she was putting together for dinner was ready to go before then, and we would all still sit down to eat it together, albeit later. Now that I’m responsible for feeding myself and another person, I have great respect for what a stressor that must have been sometimes, but I totally took it for granted back then. We did eat out just about every Friday, but it was still a family affair.
Flash forward to the hip, urban lifestyle of a 20-something married couple (yours truly and Andy, DUH), and dinner has become a bit more problematic. From what I’ve observed, it seems like many of our peers eat out a LOT! And certainly few of them (at least outwardly) seem to place the importance I do on a homecooked meal eaten together.
Andy and I mostly eat in front of the TV, on TV trays. I know, I know, this is supposed to be terrible. But honestly, with just the two of us, watching a show we both enjoy gives us something to talk about. We have periodically tried eating at the table together, and it’s just a little awkward. I eat slowly; Andy eats fast. We have plenty to talk about, but the meal isn’t conducive to drawing either of us out. So we have a docket of shows we cycle between, including Jeopardy and the news, and we’re always willing to pause what we’re watching if a point of conversation comes up (which it almost always does!).
But in the hustle and bustle of life, it’s easy for dinner to fall by the wayside. Andy will often work until 7:00 or later, but it varies from day-to-day, so I was finding myself getting stressed about timing dinner to be done precisely when he walked in the door. (News flash: this never worked.) A pain point in our day since getting married has been the instant of arrival in the evening. I am never the welcoming, effusive greeting wife I’d like to be, and Andy often felt like his mere presence had stressed me out. This was never a huge issue, but there was usually a moment of tension while we each evaluated the other’s state.
Add in the various activities we each like to do and the various groups we meet with, which have to be outside of business hours, and some weeks we ate apart more than we ate together! It dawned on me a few weeks ago that this was causing me stress. I felt like I placed a high importance on dinner and did my best to be home as often as possible for dinner, and to cook a “real meal” as often as possible, but this often meant I was thinking days ahead about when to cook what, and recently it often meant I was eating it alone because of things that came up for Andy. I also realized that the moment of tension upon Andy’s arrival home subconsciously had to do with the status of dinner.
So I did something revolutionary (hah!) and broached the subject with him. He was surprised to learn how important I viewed dinner together to be, which in turn was a surprise to me! I thought it was obvious. Another lesson learned about the importance of communication in marriage! We talked about how I would probably be more able and willing to be flexible with dinnertime if there was more of a norm to deviate from, rather than always feeling like I was flying by the seat of my pants. We agreed that we would set a goal time for dinner every night, and discuss it if it were going to need to change.
I’ve already found this makes me feel much freer with my time and my focus on dinner! If I know we’re slated to eat at 7:30, I know I can work on my blog until, say, 6:45 and not have to worry about being caught off-guard and unprepared by Andy’s arrival. And I also know that I don’t have to tackle dinner as soon as I get home from work. And the other day, I actually suggested that we eat at the restaurant where we play trivia, which is a practically unheard of deviation from the norm! And it was all because I knew that the next night I could reasonably expect we would eat at home together and I was okay with mixing things up.
I remember hearing in high school that the most common trait of high school National Merit Scholars was that they grew up eating dinner together as a family. We don’t have kids yet, but I’d say I turned out pretty well, and I think it’s worth putting a priority on something small that can have this type of long-term impact.
How do you handle dinnertimes in your family? What were they like for your growing up?