I remember, before I had kids, (you know, when you are a parenting expert) how I would imagine things would be as a family. I would never yell and never lose my temper and would feed them only organic food and we would all sit around singing kumbaya all the time in absolutely blissful familial peace. Okay, I added that kumbaya bit, but you get my drift. I basically had no idea what I was getting into.
Especially with SO MANY kids (ed note: five still doesn't feel like a lot), there are plenty of things I do "wrong" or things I do that I didn't think I would do. I cut corners, I make mistakes, I'm human, and for the most part I don't beat myself up too much about it anymore. I have accepted that yes, believe it or not, parenting is a work in progress that chances are you will never actually master. I do things wrong. We all do.
So what do we do right? We eat together, every single day. We sit down, in our actual dining room, and eat dinner together, every day. Sometimes it's an actual healthy, well thought out meal that was home cooked, sometimes it's pasta with canned peas thrown in (and sometimes its sandwiches) but the point is, we sit down together and eat.
It's our thing. It's what works for us.
The kids can rely on the fact that we will be there, together, eating together, and the other day I marveled at the fact that we do actually pull it off almost every single night. Yes we have sleepovers and sports practices and other things that come up, but we work around it. We eat early, or late, we make it work, because we committed to it. If someone misses a meal with the whole family it's pretty rare.
I'm not saying we have deep, meaningful conversations every evening over dinner. To be honest, right now a lot of the conversations revolve around the potential for dessert, but there is always a check in, a chat about how their day went. They get a chance to tell their little stories and little jokes, and most importantly, there is the time, and the chance, to talk, if they want to. In a household that can sometimes get a little loud and rambunctious, they each have their own quiet, settled down time to share.
But the thing is, it's not about dinner or what you're serving them for dinner, it's about the consistency. It's about making the time to connect with the kids on a daily basis, so it can be in the morning, it can be in the afternoon after school, it can be story time and the bedtime routine. Pick a thing, and do it, every single day.
The easiest way to do it is to just start. Even if you haven't used your dinner table for a meal since never, dust that puppy off and get some snazzy placemats at Target and eat your dinner together. Pizza on paper plates? We do it all the time. At the table. Together. Tell the kids they'd better get their butts in those seats in time for food and keep doing it. Or start a story time ritual at night. Read a little book and have a little chat and make sure you're there to do it more nights than not. Remember that just being there makes a world of difference, even if you're tired, even if your kids will eat 0% of the dinners you make. Just do it and keep doing it. You won't regret it.