It’s hard for me to admit this but there are times when I really don’t enjoy eating dinner with my kids. Of course we all know that it’s important for families to eat together but I have a suspicion these studies are talking about kids who are older than five. My three kids are under five and there is no witty banter to be had at the table. There is no sharing of highs and lows. There is mostly food negotiations, crying, timeouts, more food negotiations and then it’s all over in a flash.
I’m fine with the strong rules that we have. Because we want to train our kids to have polite table manners, it takes work. We have to work with them over and over again and my husband and I are committed to this. We don’t make them eat things they don’t want to but we serve the same thing to everyone for dinner and that’s that. But between a 5 month old, a 2 year old and a 4.5 year old… things can get loud.
Some days I’m perfectly able to handle the circus and my husband and I even smile and laugh through it. But there are some days and some seasons when it’s not helpful for anyone for me to be there, to be a grumpy mom, to be a short tempered mom or to be at the end of my rope and emotionally dangling from it. So I’ve learned to protect my family and protect myself and to give myself a little mommy timeout sometimes.
My husband will come home, I’ll have made and served dinner for everyone. I give him a kiss and head upstairs to sit in the silence of my room. I know my husband can manage the kids and keep up our table manners expectations. I eat my dinner after the kids have gone to bed when it’s quiet. I used to feel REALLY BAD about this like I was scarring my family and not giving my kids the security and consistency that they need.
But then I realized, that good intentions don’t matter if you’re an angry mom. Good intentions don’t give your kids stability if you’re short-tempered or if after four straight days of listening to kids cry and cleaning up pee and poop, you start doubting your vocation. You have to protect yourself. Motherhood is a marathon.
I’m very confident as the kids get older, we’ll have wonderful family dinners together. I know I’m committed to that. I’d love to hear about their days and chat about what we’re reading and learning. I know this is an important habit and soon we will make it a priority.
But this last week I’ve been potty training my 2 year old, my baby has been suddenly fussy and my 4.5 year old is acting out since the middle one is getting so much attention. So by the time my husband walks through the door… I just need tap out, regroup, remember that I love being a mom even when it feels overwhelming and rejoin my family again when I’m calm and filled with joy. I think this is better than my children seeing me lose my mind and having them doubt whether or not I’m happy being a mom.
There are plenty of nights when we eat dinner as a family. But now I’m wise enough to know when dinner is going to bring us together or when I’ve given all I have to give and I need to go recharge in my room. And that’s okay. I’m still being a good mom.
So ladies pick your battles. You don’t need to do all the things the internet says is good for your family. This goes for Advent traditions too. There are some great ones out there! But if you’re screaming at your kids while hand painting Jesse ornaments… you’ve missed the point. Choose your kids over the idea of something else.
In the end, they will remember your warmth and your love. Make sure that’s what you’re showing them. Show them peace, love and joy and it won’t matter what traditions you managed to make happen.