My Family Has Learned So Much From Eating Dinner Together While Social Distancing

On Friday, March 13, just two days before public schools in my city, I could feel the energy in the city change and I decided it was time for me and my family to take this growing pandemic more seriously. At that point, we hunkered down and began staying home. Now, almost 100 days later, I have made (or shall we say, um, assembled) dinner for my family every night and we have sat at the table to eat, together.

I know that being able to stay home, healthy and without food insecurity is a blessing that I'm grateful for. So for me, making dinner every night is a change to connect with my family during uncertain times. Now, when I say "I make dinner" please don't think I'm trying to imply we should all be Martha Stewart during quarantine. We've already got more than enough mom guilt to go around and I am not about dishing out any more (pun intended!). Instead, it's every variation of assembling something to eat — from grabbing the cereal bowls to actually cooking a feast from scratch. The level of effort applied in getting the food itself on the table isn't really the point. The point is the sitting at the table, together, device-free. Every. Single. Night.

While there is so much about staying home because of COVID-19 that doesn't feel good, the unprecedented consistency of this very traditional family ritual has been an unexpected silver lining, for several reasons:

  • My family, especially my daughters (who are 8 and 10), likes routine. Knowing what to expect just works for us and when the world feels really upside down, we've found comfort in the ritual of family dinner. It makes everyone more relaxed and the vibe at the table has become one of the best parts of the day.
  • This same relaxed vibe has made it much easier to get each of them to taste new foods. I've practically doubled the list of dishes everyone will eat in just two months. I've also witnessed the parenting unicorn — my youngest, and pickiest, tried two news things voluntarily — without even being asked!
  • My kids have stopped protesting setting the table and started to behave as if they have internalized this task as the part they play in making dinner happen. If only I could get this same result with putting clothes in the hamper.
  • We all like having each other's undivided, device-free, attention. It turns out, we are a pretty fun bunch when all four of us are mentally in the game at the same time. The trickle down effect is that while the kids protest being asked to do many things, sitting with us at dinner is not one of them.
  • We talk to each other more. The well-established rule that the dinner table is for being together has led to more discussions and helped my kiddos improve their ability to have conversation. A pretty impressive skill for an 8- and 10-year-old.
  • The monotony of sitting over dinner every single night after we've spent 24/7 together for more than 8 weeks (let's be real, quarantine is A LOT of family time) has sparked our creativity — we now play dinner-table trivia. If you get the purple glass at your table spot, you're the evening's host!
  • Finally getting to the place in the day where no one is being asked to do anything but hang out, when everyone is in a pretty good mood (and there's wine!) feels like a reward.

I've heard it takes 21 days to form a habit . . . in this case it's been a little longer. I'm hoping it's one that won't be totally broken when the pandemic is over.