I’m a big believer in family dinners, gathering everyone around the table to eat and talk as each day nears an end. I love sitting at the table, talking through our days and enjoying a good meal.
But this rose-hued vision of dinnertime is becoming further and further away from reality as family with two children under five. In fact, dinner often descends into chaos before I’ve even managed a forkful of bolognaise.
So here is my list of the 10 dinnertime moments that have become a reality in our home and sometimes make me feel like silently weeping into my garlic bread.
1. Someone will always need a wee. This will happen the moment your carefully-crafted meal is placed in front of the children. Sigh.
2. The dinnertime dance. This begins when one of the children decides they absolutely must get up from the table to play/colour/find a long lost toy (and it usually coincides with a meal they’re not that keen on). This then leads the other child to follow suit. This now leads to a wandering dance where we try (and often fail) to herd them back in the direction of their chairs and plates.
3. The wander. When one of the children escapes the table, we will often find them wandering around eating remnants of their dinner in another room. Our toddler particularly enjoys eating turkey meatballs while standing on her dance and spin zebra.
4. Food can be a weapon. Nothing gives a toddler more glee than wilfully flinging pasta/grated cheese/chilli everywhere bar their mouth. And you can guarantee said food will land in a faroff nook that is almost impossible to reach. I have found myself contorting under the dinner table to reach far flung food more times than I would care to remember.
5. You will repeat the phrases of your parents. Yes, you know the ones that made you roll your eyes or stamp your feet as a child? They’ll be tripping off your tongue quicker than your brain can scream “You’re turning into your mum!”. I spent a long time making this dinner so you will eat it. There are children in the world who don’t have enough to eat so you will eat your carrots! Mummy just wants to eat in peace.
6. Your food always tastes better. Yes, it’s the same food. But it’s on your plate, therefore, it’s better. This also applies to cutlery. Tonight I had to negotiate with my toddler to get my knife back. It took some time.
7. Drinks need refilling constantly. Right that second. Our children demand instantaneous refills of water and milk cups, usually as we are starting the holy grail of a still-hot meal.
8. You will need to learn inventive ways to feed yourself. One-armed pasta while holding a toddler? Check. Roast dinner while breastfeeding? Check. I have also had friends take pity on me when I foolishly made or ordered something that cannot be eaten one-handed by cutting it for me. Mamma’s gotta eat.
9. The school day is a state secret. I am always desperate to find out about our son’s school day over dinner. What did he do? Who did he play with? What did he enjoy today? But most days, I get reminded that, to him, the school day is a sworn secret. He is no more likely to impart with this information than he is to give away his Lego Star Wars DVD.
10. I’m not hungry…can I have dessert now? A personal bugbear for me is when our son declares he cannot eat a morsel more of his food but asks for a dessert a few moments later. No. Just no.
What dinnertime habits do you have in your house? How have your dinner times changed since having children?