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I Force My Family to Eat Dinner Together Every Night

I Force My Family to Sit Down and Eat Dinner Together Every Night No Matter How Busy We Are

VACATION, from left: Skyler Gisondo, Ed Helms, Christina Applegate, Chris Hemsworth, Leslie Mann, Steele Stebbins, 2015. ph: Hopper Stone/Warner Bros. Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection

There are some family traditions that never quite stuck in our family, like when my husband, 4-year-old son, and I tried talking about our day right before bedtime. Trying to get my son into bed basically takes a whole day, and anything other than bedtime reading always devolves into him having a naked dance party. Enforcing this ritual would have cost us precious nights of sleep, so I decided to let it go. It was a battle I knew I couldn't win. But instead of throwing in the towel completely, I just shifted things around a bit to come out on top. That's where our family dinners come in. I make my family sit down for dinner together every night, no matter how busy or stressful our days are.

I want [my son] to feel the same thing I felt when I was a kid, which is a steady stream of love and support. Food and good conversation can do that.

I've always tried to have dinnertime be family time. After watching all those episodes of Parenthood (if you haven't seen it, please binge it now), it seemed that once my son started kindergarten, things around here would quickly start to change. He will start his own life away from mom and dad, become more independent, and find new friends and activities that will take up his time. Knowing all this, I decided to start early with family dinners, setting the precedent that dinnertime is family time and that it's nonnegotiable.

Growing up, I always had family dinners to rely on at the end of every day. My dad worked 60-hour weeks and my younger sister and I both had tons of after-school activities, yet my mom always made sure we all came together for dinner. We didn't zone out in front of the TV or take phone calls from friends. We sat around the table, and no matter what kind of moods we were in or how reluctant we were to talk about our days (those teenage years are real), we always ended up sharing stories, laughing together, and learning more about each other. Sometimes it was boring, sometimes it felt like a chore, and sometimes it was exactly what I needed. I cherish each and every one of those wonderful memories.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm ready to bore my son, annoy him, nag him about his day, and bond with him. I want him to know us spending time together as a family is a daily priority. I also want him to feel the same thing I felt when I was a kid, which is a steady stream of love and support. Food and good conversation can do that.

Now, having these daily family dinners doesn't come without its challenges. Trying to organize everyone for a sit-down meal in my house can be an uphill battle (just trying to get my 4-year-old to sit still is hard). As soon as dinner is ready, my husband suddenly has a schedule all his own and likes to wander, and my kid will pretend he's Aladdin and want to go off on his flying carpet. The only ones who show up on time for dinner are the dogs.

And I have no doubt things will only get harder as my son gets older, but I know I have to push through. Like other traditions I've started and stopped, I could just let this one go, but I won't. We all have our own schedules, but taking the easy way out and passing by each other on the way to the microwave isn't something I want to become the norm. This is important to me. I'm not giving up. I'm in this family tradition for the long haul — even if we have to eat in the car at a drive-through some nights. I'm OK with that. And you know why? Because we'll be together.

Image Source: Everett Collection
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