Spend Less Time at the Dinner Table Without Sacrificing Quality Family Time

by Ivy B
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quality family time at dinner table with rules
Photo Courtesy: coolclips.com

The thing about parenting is that you’re always navigating your way around life like it’s an endless adventure.  Adventure?  Crap, that sounds almost nice.  I guess we can call it an adventure, like a choose your own adventure book, blended with a bit of gaming terminology.  We are always going from one quest to another.  It’s not always fun or entertaining, but I suppose there’s always the reward for defeating each level, right?  So, we have different levels and each stage of our kid’s life is like beating a different boss.

I know most kids spend too much time playing at the table at some point or another, and I feel for you if you’re in one of those moments.

Most recently, we were working on the stage where we get the tiny cranky boss to feed herself independently.  For weeks on end, we’ve been planted at the table for what seems like hours unless we help the kid-boss by feeding her ourselves.  She starts out strong, feeding herself, then becomes needy and depends on us to finish the job.  She would stop, then look at me and ask “can you feed me?” in a super-sweet tone, following up with “I’m not a baby.”  I fell for it one too many times and found myself enslaved to her and her utter laziness.  It’s tiresome (and annoying) being stuck at the table long after you’ve finished your meal.  The dishes sit in the sink and could be cleaned off, but instead, I’m spending the next 20 minutes feeding a kid that’s completely capable of doing it herself.

Even more recently, when I asked her why she needed me to feed her, she responded with “because I love you.”

I’m speechless.  I mean really, how does that make any sense?  Yet, how can I be upset with an answer like that?

Hubby and I finally decided that we’ve got to get serious about tackling this stage before years of food-feeding slavery go by.  There’s no reason dinner should take an hour or more, but the kid also needs to be more independent, because she’s been feeding herself for 2 years already.  I’m a stay at home mom, but I’m not a slave.  And, kiddo, if you really love me, you’d appreciate that I already do so much for you and sometimes I just want to eat my own dinner and leave the table because I’ve already spent 2 hours in the kitchen just making the dang food.

What are we doing?  Our plan of action is to cut dinner off about 30 minutes after we sit down to eat.  No more help.  Any plan for after-meal-time treats will be denied if she doesn’t feed herself.  This morning, for example, I refused to feed her (she started out strong, as usual and then just quit).  We were planning to go out to a few stores to run a few errands and I told her we would be staying home if she didn’t finish feeding herself.  She cried.  I walked away.  She requested (and sometimes demanded help) and she was met with one more response that we couldn’t leave until she ate her food.  I mentioned that I needed to finish getting ready, myself.  And then, further requests and crying were ignored.  I just pretended I didn’t hear her.

I can’t believe that she finished her entire bowl of oatmeal in 5 minutes and then I heard her yell “I finished!” followed by giggles and a clap for joy.  Subsequent meal times have gone almost as well.  We’re reminding her less often, and we’re finding that everyone is much less aggravated by the time dinner is over.  In about a week’s time, we’ve only had one dinner that went unfinished because she was more interested in snacks and chose to go without anything else if she couldn’t have candy.   Amazingly, she didn’t give us too much trouble when we didn’t give in, either.

Within about two weeks, her requests for help all but stopped.  On occasion she nearly whispers the request, knowing that it’s against the rules.  I may have to explain to her that mommy can’t help for one reason or another.  I remind her that she’s a big girl, and if she wants X (treat, going somewhere, etc), she has to feed herself.

It’s working!

I hear a little happy success tune in my head right about now!

How do you and the kids handle meal times? Do you have strategies to make meal times less stressful, more productive, or more timely?

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