Eating Together, Talking Together

Toddi Gutner

I grew up with a “dinner hour”--the 6pm call to the dinner table when my father came home from the office, the television was turned off, the phone wasn’t answered and everyone showed up to eat together and share their day’s triumphs and tribulations.

I treasured that time, and want a “dinner hour’ in my own household, yet I’ve had trouble making it happen. Yesterday’s New York Times front page article, “Families with Full Plates, Sitting Down to Dinner,” only reinforced my feeling that making an effort to gather around the dinner table is a sacrosanct time.

The article highlights the importance of family dinners and that those that eat together are often families whose parents are fully engaged with their children. It also documents the recent rise in the number of children ages 12 to 17 who said they ate dinner with their families at least five times a week, to 58% last year from 47% in 1998.

Our problem is that our two sons, ages 7 and 9, have always had their dinner around 5:30 and my husband and I (on the three days I work in the city) don’t walk in from work until 6:30 at the earliest—and sometimes not until 7.

We've tried to have our babysitter feed them a healthy snack around the time they would typically have dinner, but that didn’t work. They still complained of being hungry. By the time we sat down at the table at 6:45, they were either incredibly irritable or if the sitter kept plying them with snacks, they weren’t hungry. Then we tried having them sit with us at least for their dessert. Often, the dessert didn’t make it from the pantry to the table before they were finished.

I’m thinking of different strategies. One thought: Move their dinner time back by 15 minutes over the course of a few weeks until we’ve closed the gap between 5:30 and 6:45. Another option might be to leave the office earlier with the plan to work at home later the evening. That’s possible with my job since I bring my work computer home with me every night. Right now, our problem is one my husband and I can try to change. As our children get older and their schedules become busier, it will be a lot harder to instill the importance of this time together. We figure we have a small window of opportunity.

I’d love to hear how other families make sure everyone sits down together for at least 15 minutes a couple times a week.

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