Empathic Parenting Counseling and Coaching

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4 Reasons We Don’t Bother With Family Dinners

4 Reasons We Don't Bother With Family Dinners

Most therapists will tell you that family dinners are essential for raising well balanced children. Even “the most important thing you can do with your kids.” The assumption is that we all have hectic lives and various activities which keep us busy. If we don’t reconnect over dinner, we’re missing important opportunities for conversation with our children. The communal dinner has become a ubiquitous family value, one we’re all supposed to observe if we want to be good parents.
 
I’ve had a dirty little secret for far too long, and it’s time to fess up: we don’t have family dinners at my house. As a therapist who has suggested family dinners to countless families over the years, this confession feels a little taboo. Yet I stand firmly in our stance to skip family dinners.

Here’s why:


1. LOGISTICS 

Our only son is five, and his preferred dinner time is 4:30. My husband comes home from work about 5:15, and he likes to eat dinner about 7:30. I’ve tried my darndest to get them both to the table at 5:30, and I almost always regret it.  It means an hour of melting down beforehand because my kid is starving, and it means my husband is perched awkwardly not really eating because he isn’t hungry yet. It feels stressful and contrived. It’s pretty much the opposite of the picture most therapists paint about the importance of quality family time.

2. KIDS CONNECT THROUGH PLAY

My son and I are together all day nearly every day of the week. We have plenty of time for connection. I already know what he’s been up to all day, so we don’t really need to catch up over dinner. I was there for the play date he had this morning. The walk he took in the afternoon? I was there for that too. When my husband gets home, our five year old doesn’t want to sit down over a meal and have a conversation about his day. He wants to wrestle and play! After a long day apart, it’s more meaningful that our son reconnect with his dad in the way that matters most to him.

3. I DESERVE TO ENJOY A MEAL

Seriously. I’m up and down throughout breakfast and lunch. I haven’t eaten warm eggs in years. Sometimes I eat dinner early with my son, but sometimes I deserve to wait until after he goes to bed to eat. Occasionally it’s nice to eat a leisurely meal which doesn’t involve standing over the kitchen sink shoving food in my mouth. Parenting is relentless, and we’ve all earned the right to enjoy a few simple comforts.

4. DINNER ISN’T MAGIC

Getting everyone to the table isn’t enough to create a healthy family. Plus, there are plenty of happy families with non-traditional schedules who don’t have the luxury of sitting down to a meal together every night. Tight-knit families find all sorts of ways to remain close. Sharing meals can build community, and family time is essential. However, I fail to understand why dinner has become the gold standard for family bonding.
 
More importantly, we all get to decide what works for our families and then do it. Sometimes what we’re told we “should” do for a happy family actually causes more stress. We can unapologetically follow the unique path that suits our family’s lifestyle, and we don’t have to justify it to anyone. 
 
When my son is in school and is no longer eating on an early-bird schedule, I’m sure I will institute family dinners. I’ll wrangle everyone to the table each night just like my mom did when I was a kid. But at this stage it’s just not going to happen, and I refuse to feel guilty about it.

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