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Why I Refuse to Eat Dinner as a Family

This post originally appeared in Kveller.

Six o’clock was dinnertime in my suburban Wisconsin home in the 1970s and ‘80s. My working mother, a socialist ahead of her time, made sure that we all participated in a collaborative menu-making session every other Sunday so that the collective decisions were reached by majority vote and therefore less likely to be boycotted or spur a mutiny. It was always completed two weeks in advance, and posted on the fridge.

The rule was: the first one to arrive home was responsible for cooking the family meal, since she had ensured that all ingredients were already in the house. Thus I knew how to cut up a whole chicken, season it, and throw it in the oven by 4:30. I also knew to involve myself in a bazillion after-school activities–enough to avoid the responsibility, placing it squarely on my sister’s less intrinsically manipulative shoulders. I am the typical youngest child.

The wisdom of the day–and in fact, the wisdom of today–strongly espouses the distinct and varied advantages of a consistent family dinner, including lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and depression as well as higher grade-point averages and self-esteem. For the children.

But what about the parents?

Dinner with my 9, 6, and 4-year-old sucks even though I have made a concerted effort to teach table manners in a country where I might be the only one to have ever bothered with such a thing. Dinner still sounds like this:

Cut my meat.

I need more milk.

*Milk spills*

He took the last roll.

I didn’t want pasta.

No toys at the table.

Finish your chicken before I’ll give you more rice.

My foods are touching each other.

How many bites before dessert?

I am half waitress and half dictator. Which I get, because I had three kids in five years, and they have to eat, every damn day, and I have to cook non-processed, homemade meals for them, every day. Yep, I signed up for that and I’ll do it. I get the value and the importance.

But I’ll be goddamned if I’m going to sit and eat with them.

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