I’m going to let you into a secret. One of those secrets where you hear other parents talk and feel that it’s a secret that no-one else shares. So I shall share it with you and see whether anyone else shares it with me: I don’t enjoy eating meals with my children. I know that I am supposed to enjoy them. In fact, I feel a huge amount of pressure to enjoy sharing mealtimes as a family, but I just don’t.
Over the years I have read numerous articles telling us to sit down to eat as a family. They have told me that this is important as it is a time when families can chat and discuss and plan. It is an important time for the children to learn how to develop the art of conversation, as well as table manners. Indeed, I can remember my Grandma having a roast with us every weekend and her constantly reprimanding me for not chewing each mouthful twenty times, among other things. I have engaged in both argument and debate around the family dining table with my own parents.
So, over the years I have made sure that we sit as a family and eat together whenever we can. I have been hot on table manners and have encouraged the art of conversation. However, the truth is, that I often end up feeling that rather than being a positive experience, it is rather a stressful one.
I have an issue with elbows and I find that the children’s are usually sticking out at a right angle, making me feel claustrophobic and unable to eat my food properly. I enjoy the interaction, until they start talking with food in their mouths and then I get cross. We get into a good debate and then it descends into the kids griping and sniping at one another and my own voice is no longer heard. Then comes the sniffing. They don’t know that they are doing it, but the steam that is rising from the hot food is making their noses run and they don’t know how to use a tissue. Finally, there is the food around their mouths, that I ask them to wipe, but they don’t immediately and it annoys me.
So now my secret is out. My guilty secret. I feel guilty because I know that these are precious times spent together and I love spending time with my girls. I feel guilty because my mum enjoys cooking and sharing food with us and always seemed to. I feel guilty because psychologists tell me how important it is to eat as a family and so I feel that I must make the effort.
The reality is that there are very few times in this Mad House that we can eat together. I feel guilty that I don’t make more time.
Scottish Nanna Nellie used to sometimes recite a Scottish grace before a meal. I have my own version:
For what we are about to endure: elbows out, mouths open, griping, texting, snap chatting the contents of the plate,
May the Lord make us truly patient,
Easter Sunday. A barbecue breakfast. Looks idyllic…but daughter 1 sneezed with a mouthful of scrambled egg. Get my point?!