Family dinner is a long-standing tradition. It’s a cherished time for connecting with one another over a well-balanced, multicourse meal that every family member leisurely enjoys in the dining room on china.
While that ideal is possible for some families on some days, the reality is that preparing, sharing, and cleaning up the traditional evening meal can actually cause stress and eat into precious family time.
Some families’ work schedules, community commitments, or developmental needs are simply not conducive to eating dinner together every evening in the conventional sense. For example:
Scenario 1: One parent leaves work just in time to pick up the kids from daycare. They sit in traffic on the way home, and when they finally arrive, everyone is tired, cranky, and hungry. The other parent gets stuck on a late conference call at the office and doesn’t pull into the driveway until 7 p.m.
Scenario 2: One child has basketball practice from 5-6 p.m. Her brother has a study group from 6-7 p.m., and Mom is in charge of the neighborhood HOA meeting from 7-8 p.m.
Scenario 3: One sister eats a snack after she gets off the school bus and isn’t hungry again until almost bedtime. The baby cries in the 5 o’clock hour, needs to be nursed at 6 p.m., and then put to bed by 7 p.m.
These families aren’t doing anything wrong. However, it could be wrong to forcefully squeeze in a family dinner for the sake of custom. It would be counterproductive for the parents in scenario 1 to sacrifice quality playtime with their tired, hungry children in order to cook dinner. The family in scenario 2 is simply going about life and having a one-time scheduling issue. The developmental needs of the kids in scenario 3 are just not aligning during this season.
Bottom line, it’s not always practical to eat dinner as a family. The solution? Give yourself and your family some grace and cancel dinner.
Here’s how to cancel dinner: Make sure each member of the family has a hearty lunch on the days dinner is cancelled. Then, whip out a healthy assortment of munchies for the family to graze on as time permits and let them eat when it works best.
Cancelling dinner frees the parents in scenario 1 from the time commitment of cooking and, therefore, wastes some of the precious little time they get with their kids in the evening. It allows the family in scenario 2 to have healthy options available opposed to grabbing a pricey and less healthy meal on the go. Lastly, it gives the weary parents in scenario 3 grace, so they can avoid enduring a meal with one child wailing as they ask the other child over and over again to please eat one more green bean.
In our well-intended attempt to be healthy, close-knit families, we sometimes let “what we’ve always done” or what we think is “right” cloud our vision. We need to free ourselves from legalistic thinking and instead assess the needs of our families. Cancelling dinner might be a frequent thing for some families, while it’s just a weekly or monthly thing for others. Look at your family members’ calendars, assess their needs, and be self-aware enough to know what you can handle in the evenings.
Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children to anger lest they become discouraged, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” How can you structure your evenings and meet your family’s needs best while building them up? What does it look like for you to maintain a peaceful home? Some nights it might look like swapping highs and lows of the day over the family dinner table. Other nights, it might look like granting everyone freedom to pursue the projects they’re working on, snacking in the kitchen in shifts, and catching up during bedtime prayers.
You are the one most acutely aware of the needs of those who live under your roof, not your neighbors, social media, or even tradition. Don’t be afraid to come up with creative solutions to provide flexibility and maximize quality family time.
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