Wacky Wednesdays: the forced family meal
Do you miss family dinners? I did. How a cheesy email turned things around.
Even though we’re in the midst of a pandemic and life has really slowed down, I thought we’d be sitting around the dinner table regularly. But we’re not.
Moms of younger kids - the kids that (pre-Covid) had hockey practice or music lessons or math tutoring or clubs at school in the evenings - were you missing having family meals together?
Moms of older kids - like the driving, adult-ish kind of kids that live at home (but should be living on campus or travelling or doing the things they’d been hoping to do this year) - do you miss family dinners? Because although they may be living at home it doesn’t mean you’re sitting around the table together.
And, us moms and dads, we're also busy and miss meals too. We're working, volunteering, helping out aging parents, driving kids around.
It's not that we don't want to have dinner together. It's just that as the kids got older and more independent and started making their own schedules and then one turned vegetarian and one hasn't eaten dairy or gluten or eggs for years, family dinners still happened but they were becoming more complicated and less frequent. We all like each other which can be argued to be more important than loving each other. Loving each other is expected. Liking each other is a bonus. Hanging out together regularly helps to solidify those sibling relationships.
Anyway, I got sick of it. I would make a meal and as I was about call everyone down to eat, one of the kids would fly past me out the door as their buddy pulled into the driveway, one would be right in the middle of recording a podcast and I'd have forgotten that one was studying late at the library (hmmm, might be a reflection of my organization or cooking skills...). I don’t cook a big meal every night, don’t get the wrong idea. I just love hanging out at the table together, even if it’s with leftovers. Truth be told, I’d hire a chef if we were unlimitedly wealthy. That would be dreamy. But back to reality and my leftovers and no kids at the table…
I decided that it was time for a serious intervention if I was ever going to get the fam around the table consistently again. So I wrote my family an email. Yes, sometimes you have to stoop to those lowest of lows and go against all the advice you’ve given your kids about how face-to-face is always better than an email or text.
Here’s what it looked like:
Can you hear the kids groan? Can you see the eyes rolling? And ok, I didn’t push Tony out but whatever…
It doesn’t matter what they do before 6:00 or after 8:00 on a Wednesday evening as long as I have them for those 2 hours. And each of them is taking a turn cooking a full meal that night - main, sides and dessert (we never have dessert). It doesn’t have to be fancy but they’re in charge of the whole shebang. I've even told them that they can have a theme for their table setting - LOL - they used to love doing that when they were little. Maybe I'll be surprised by one of these nights.
Turns out 'Wacky Wednesdays' (the cringe-worthy subject line of the email above) was one of my winner ideas! This has honestly become a favourite night of the week for all of us. I wouldn’t have pushed my luck by suggesting a board game that very first night but now they're pulling out the games and we’re lingering at the table way past 8:00 most Wednesdays. Hallelujah! Tony's even made crazy conversation starters (the cheesier the better).
This isn't just an idea for families with older kids. Once the world gets back to after-school swimming lessons, soccer practice and violin recitals with your younger ones, try to schedule one of these dinners every week. Make it an event and watch it take on a life of its own.
Here are the lessons I learned and, as per usual, they don't just apply to eating together:
Give reasonable expectations. Setting a time limit was exactly what makes this whole idea do-able. No one could deny that 2 hours was an unreasonable amount of time to fork up. And now we're often hanging out together much longer. But I'm not expecting them to stay longer. They can totally leave at 8:00.
I had to instigate. This was not going to just happen on its own. I had to make it happen but once I followed through and forced them into it (LOL) everyone wanted to keep it up.
Write it down. Writing something out (in this case in an email) instead of leaving it out there as an idea floating in space helped to make it happen. It became an appointment on the calendar instead of just a suggestion.
Go ahead, be cheesy. Isn't that what they expect from you anyway? Google 'family night' images to find the perfect graphic for your email.
I was telling some girlfriends (who are the moms of some of my kids' friends) about our Wednesdays and they may try to do the same thing with their families on the same night. Cheesy-ness bringing families together all over the place!!! I love it.
Of course, things are always changing, especially these days, and the kids won't be living at home forever. But for as long as possible I'm ok to force family dinners. Wacky Wednesdays for the win!