Marissa says: Todd and I really enjoy our kids, who are active, inquisitive, joyful, and at times, boisterous! The “active” can be more than I can cope with as I am preparing dinner, especially those last moments when I need to pull it all together and try to get items, still hot, to the table without spilling anything on anybody.
The “inquisitive” at times goes beyond what my brain cells can provide an answer for by the time I am (finally) sitting down to eat dinner! The atmosphere at our dinner table is challenging, even chaotic.
How can I manage a grumpy 13 year old, a hyper 9 year old, twins that are 7, and an inquisitive 3 year old, at this time of day when my stamina is really wearing out?
Todd says: I get home right before dinner so I am not much of a help to this situation, except to sincerely listen to Marissa’s complaints. I remind her we have a healthy, happy, energetic group of kids, and since I am not here from the time they come home from school, I am not much of a help between 3 and 6 p.m. I do assist with homework and chauffeuring to ball games and sports practice, choir, or whatever else is lined up after dinner, but I am just as flummoxed as Marissa as to how to address the dinner behaviors.
We really want our children to share their day and offer their opinions at the dinner table. So many families no longer even attempt to eat dinner together due to organized activities and parents coming home later than the dinner hour. I sometimes wish we did not have to deal with the “fabulous five” altogether at dinner time, but Marissa and I do believe this is the one time of day our family gets together. We want to provide an avenue for expression and thus promote “family,” but does this have to be at the loss of sanity for the adults at the table?
What do they do?
Dinnertime is often a difficult time for parents, especially when they are tired and the children are wound up, almost spinning out of control … not in a bad way, but with normal, youthful energy. This can prove to be quite a challenge.
Having a quiet time prior to dinner, a time to read or do homework, or go outside for a walk, also can have a calming effect on a large brood who, when hungry, can tend to challenge other family members.
Starting dinner with a prayer is essential to toning down the atmosphere from frenetic to “let’s take a moment to thank God.”
Prior to dinner, having the children perform various duties like setting the table or preparing the salad or putting chairs around the table can redirect some of the frenetic energy to getting their job done.
In addition, we know one couple who, to combat this very problem, one day told the children that they were having a very special guest visit them at dinner that night, and they had better not come to the table looking like they just fell out of the backyard tree. The mom put out their best dishes and silverware, set an extra place, and in the middle of the table placed a beautiful white candle.
The atmosphere that night was subdued with the kids trying to figure out “who was coming for dinner?” The dad and mom explained that their dinner routine had gotten out of hand, and so from this day forward, a special guest would be joining them. Their special guest will be Jesus, and the beautiful white candle would be lit each night as a symbol of his presence at their dinner table.
We cannot report that all was 100 percent perfect at meals thereafter; however, the children did respond and were less prone to throw that requested biscuit and more inclined to be polite when asking for the butter to be passed.
Of course, there were the little arguments over whose turn it was to light the Jesus Candle or whose turn to blow out the candle, which became an important part of this family’s subsequent dinners.
Holding a monthly family meeting to talk over how Marissa and Todd, as parents, would like their household to run on a daily basis, including age-appropriate expectations of chores for each child, can also help to settle down conduct at dinner time.
The family meeting can include discussion on other areas of the family life, such as holiday and vacation plans, as well as be a place where the parents can express clarity about their expectations for their children’s overall behavior.
At family meetings it is important for everyone, even the youngest, to have a voice and everyone’s opinion be respected.
“Those whose steps are guided by the Lord, whose way God approves, may stumble, but they will never fall, for the Lord holds their hand” (Psalm 37:23-24).