When I had my first baby, I was adamant that our new family would have family dinners every night. My family wasn’t going to eat our dinner around the TV—we were going to spend that time bonding. And at first, with a baby trying new foods and willing to eat and play with anything you put on his tray, it was fun.
But today? Now that I’m a mother of a five year old and 2 year old? Now dinner is the worst part of the day.
I spend the hour before dinner telling my children over and over again that they cannot have a snack:
“No, you cannot have chips before dinner. Chips are a treat.”
“No, you cannot eat some candy. Stop trying to sneak a piece from the pantry.”
“No, for the tenth time, you cannot have some crackers. Dinner is almost ready.”
Once I finally get dinner on the table, my kids spend the first ten minutes complaining about what I made (“Awww, enchiladas? I don’t like enchiladas. They taste yucky.”). My two year old gets out of her chair about fifteen times (“I just need to get something real quick!”). They both need another spoon. Or a different fork. Or some milk.
By the time I finish my food, they still haven’t eaten anything and they are whining about what’s on their plates. Then my husband and I spend the rest of dinner alternating between yelling at them and threatening to take away something that they love. One night I actually held a toy above the garbage and was completely committed to throwing it away. At that point I didn’t care that I was clutching a forty dollar Lego that I would likely re-buy in a few months, I was determined to see my son take one single bite of his dinner.
And every night, I wonder what exactly is so great about family dinner time. I wonder when I will actually spend time talking about my day with my kids or hearing about what they did. I wonder when we will get through the meal without complaining.
Lately, I’ve started to think that it’s worth it. The kids never want to eat what I make and I end up angry that no one appreciated my meal. “Don’t make food a battle,” they say. “Feed them only super healthy stuff that no kid wants to eat,” they say. But they don’t tell you how to do those things simultaneously. (If I hear “Just offer it and eventually they will eat it!” one more time, I might break down and cry.)
I’m so tired of dinnertime being awful, that I’m about ready to give up. While I’m all for family bonding time, it seems like at this point, it’s not bonding, it’s a battle. And frankly, it’s a battle that I’m losing.