Trying to keep my eyes from rolling up inside my head, I listen to their petty back-and-forth. The whole thing, like most of my boys’ “things” is an unnecessary display of hypersensitivities and compiled sibling grievances. But even though this isn’t school and there are no official assigned seats, there is an unspoken understanding — the head seat is my husband’s and each boy has his chosen place around the table. Clearly some take that arrangement more seriously than others.
“I know you were sitting there,” I say to my oldest, not sure whether I’m doing the right or wrong thing, “but please just move and give your brother his seat.”
Thankfully, he complies. With a grunt and a mild (acceptable) shove, he picks himself up and slides his books to the other side of the table. Momentary order resumes. I am back to the domestic goddess business, otherwise known as taco making, but I have just realized something important — I have no official seat at the table.
We are far from the picture of a 1950s family. Here, meals are at random times and often on the run. We eat between the rush of homework and sports, Hebrew school and activities. Last summer, we renovated our kitchen, knocking down the wall and giving up our dining room for a larger, more open space. I was sorry to lose the formal room but it made sense since we only entertained there four times a year or so. My functional new kitchen features a beautiful working island where the boys snack and do homework, and where I stand perched at the ready, triangulating between the fridge, stove and table. When I’m not preparing dinner, making lunches or tending to the children’s general needs, I could just as easily be found standing here, leaning over the paper and relaxing with a cup of coffee.
It almost never crosses my mind to sit down.
Maybe it started when the kids were younger and I was always flittering here for a bib and there for more tater tots. For a long time, sitting seemed impossible, and even when I did sit, it was a stressful, hurried situation that ended with me feeling tense, shoving food in my mouth that I didn’t want to eat and always thrilled to be finished with it. I transitioned happily into the craziness of sports and after-school activities, where regular family dinners are as common as my boys finding their own shoes.
But is this a breakdown in the family dynamic? Have we taken informality too far? No dining room. Rare family dinners. Even when it occurs to me to take some offense at my lack of assigned seating, the truth is I am now more comfortable standing. I don’t look to sit down anymore, and it’s not expected of me.
I know that when I stand, I don’t stand alone. My mother almost never sits and neither do many of my friends. I see them all, like myself, shuffling plates, clearing tables, dishing out extra portions and then running off to the next activity. Yet, studies show that sitting down and having dinner as a family leads to happier, more confident children who have better relationships with their parents. There’s even evidence of improved academics and less risky teenage behavior.
So when dinner is ready, I decide to do something unheard of. I pull out a chair and sit down.
“Mommy,” my eight-year-old says, “You’re sitting.”
“Yup,” I confirm. “I’m having dinner with you guys.”
“Can you get me some water?” My oldest son asks.
“Nope,” I say, liking my new position, “you can get it yourself. So, how was everyone’s day?” I ask, trying to initiate television family table conversation.
“Who can give me more healers?” my middle son asks, and I am confused until I see that he is looking at his iPad off to the side. I then notice that both my older and younger sons are also glued to their screens.
“Um, screens away, boys,” I say and they groan.
Clearly we have some things to work on here, but I realize now that it’s a priority to sit down as a family and eat. Yes, it’s going to take some effort with my husband’s work schedule and the boys’ after-school activities, and personally it will be difficult for me to slow myself down enough to sit. But given the potential benefits, it seems like a necessity, especially as my family matures.
As the mom of a 13-, 10- and 8-year-old, I think we need that conversation around the table. We need to all be present for each other. We need to have a time and place to check in. And we need Mom to be not just a provider, but a participant. So from now on, I will be sitting more often. Who knows, one of these days I may even decide to put my feet up.
Alisa Schindler is a freelance writer and SAHM of three boys. Between schlepping to the ball fields and burning cupcakes, she chronicles the sweet and bittersweet of life in the suburbs on her blog Icescreammama.com.
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