Sure, every mom knows she's supposed to be serving up family dinners. After all, experts say that the sit-down meal ritual is the recipe for family success. But given all of our time-starved lives, the reality for many of us is that daily dinners don't always work. What's more, the pressure to make them happen on a regular basis leaves moms with a major guilt trip, as Circle of Moms member Brenda R. puts it.
Though she appreciates the benefits of bringing the family together for a nightly meal, Brenda explains that she and her partner's work schedules make it virtually impossible. "My husband works the closing shift at work (goes in at 5 p.m. and is home at 12:30 a.m.) so we can't eat together, but our child knows we both love him."
She is one of many Circle of Moms members who are wondering how in the world to squeeze in soccer practice, commuting, work, and events like parent teacher conferences, and still get a family meal on the table.
Fortunately, say Circle of Moms members, there are many ways besides family dinners to serve up stability and keep your family strong. Here, they share four ideas for fostering family community even when you have to eat on the run.
1. Informal Family Meals Count Too
Instead of fretting over sitting down at the family table, families should consider improvising where and when they gather together, Circle of Moms members suggest. Sharon C. and her crew head to the family room and eat in front of the TV. And it works. "Sometimes my son prefers to eat at the kitchen island on the bar stool while my hubby and I are at the kitchen table," she says."But once a week it's in the family room in front of the TV."
Joanna G. likes to keep her definition of a family meal relaxed. "Some nights I'll be cooking a big meal and my daughter gets too impatient to wait, so I'll fix her an impromptu dinner and she'll sit and eat while I'm cooking. [Later,] my husband and I might cuddle on the couch and eat dinner together while she plays. Or some nights I'm too lazy and we'll order a pizza or takeout and eat in the living room watching a movie together. Regardless of where we are though, we're normally all together while we're eating."
2. Once a Week Instead of Every Night
Sitting down for a family dinner every night might seem impossible, so instead set lower expectations. You don't have to jump from zero to seven days a week. "That's too hard," says Joanna G. "Try to make it once a week," says Kristine H. "Our boys are getting older and more involved in activities or sports and so we are winding up not having as many meals together. So this time is precious. We are compromising and having Sunday dinner."
3. Dinner is Served for Those Who Can Come
Sometimes the whole clan can't make it to the table, but you can still gather everyone who is available. Donna P. and her family are fully aware that with sports, work and other obligations, not every family member can gather every evening for dinner. Instead, whoever shows up, shows up, she says. "Sometime the kids all eat together at a table, and I wait for my husband to come home [to eat]," she says. Other times, family dinner is: "the kids that are home."
4. Check-in Later in the Evening
Dinner isn't the only time families can check in, say Circle of Moms members. Carolynne T.'s family can't share family meals because her husband is a shift worker , with hours that are "all over the place," and she says that because they're not used to eating together at the dining table, the effort to do so is "usually stressful and not worth it." So instead of family dinners, she's established another ritual for connecting: she tries to spend one-on-one time with each of her children later in the evening: "We may not eat together, but I spend the night being available to talk to each of them."
What do you do to strengthen your family if dinnertime doesn't work?
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