I got in a lot of trouble back in 2012 when I wrote the following “rule for family dinner”…
Rule 1: If you have a kid under age three, don’t bother.
There were other rules I believed in, too — the food doesn’t really matter, cook within your culinary comfort zone, mashed potatoes save the day, apply broccoli logic, etc — but this was the one that riled up the masses. There was a collective whew from overwhelmed parents, but also a lot of pushback. I put all my babies at the dinner table as soon as they could sit in their high chairs, some said. One reviewer on Amazon wrote, This method is a surefire way to create picky eaters.
Well, guess what? More than a decade later, I still stand by that rule. Both of my daughters are grown up and in college, and I write this dispatch from high up in my lofty empty nest, but I will never forget those stressful early days of coming home from work and attempting to cook some lowest-common-denominator dinner that everyone liked (impossible), while also consoling a witching-hour baby and her older sister who was all I’M STARVING MOMMMMY. As I wrote back in 2012: “You won’t be able to concentrate on any kind of conversation or enjoy what you just spent time preparing, let alone be able to savor your family’s only unplugged moment of the day. You will, in fact, only be setting yourself up for failure, potentially triggering a spiral into dark places of self-hatred. That can be hard to recover from.”
Obviously, if you are more together than I was as a new parent and enjoy cooking under those circumstances, or if you’ve been pulling off family dinner for your triplet infants without breaking a sweat, ignore this advice! But I didn’t start until my youngest was three, then went on to have 15 years of perfectly imperfect family dinners that I loved so much I wrote books about them. The point is, as always, do what feels right for you. And the idea that if you don’t do it, you are doomed, the door is closed, the damage is done!? How many times in the past 20 years as a mom I have I thought that, then been proven wrong, sometimes only moments later. (Eight is too late for her to start soccer. If I don’t start assigning chores when they’re five, they’ll never understand responsibility. She’ll never catch up in math.) These are not baby Boston terriers we are raising, they are baby humans, with all the resiliency and fortitude that comes along with it.
(Photo by Melissa Milis Photography/Stocksy.)