Dinner Time without Daddy (or Mommy)

Once upon a time, a mother wearing real clothes and in full makeup was in the kitchen cooking dinner. The children were in the living room playing with puzzles and blocks. And just as the mom put the finishing touches on the beautiful, healthy dinner she had made from scratch, her husband came home from work, walked in and placed a big kiss on her lips. And with a sense pride and authority she boldly proclaimed, “Time to eat!” The husband and kids came to the table with a gleam in their eyes and a big “Thank you, this looks delicious.” And they all ate together happily ever after.

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That was what I thought my evenings as a wife and mother would look like. I have been a mom for almost four years and have been married for almost five and I have yet to experience my picture perfect evening on a regular basis.

Here’s the reality: I am in athletic shorts because they are way more comfortable than “real clothes”. My hair is pulled back in a messy bun and I can’t even remember if I put deodorant on that day, much less makeup. While making dinner, I spend half of the time going back and forth from the kitchen to the living room, dealing with my children who are falling apart at the drop of a hat (quite literally sometimes). My hubby works four evenings a week so he isn’t even home for dinner most of the time. And when at last dinner is ready, I get the kids to the table, sit down with a sigh and then my three year old informs me that he wanted hot dogs instead of casserole. And then I spend the rest of the meal time telling him to eat his dinner.

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Idealism, the Enemy of Motherhood

Yes, I have learned I am idealist when it comes to motherhood. As I child, I remember dreaming about the days when the fairy tale image portrayed in the opening paragraph would become reality. And I’m still dreaming about those days. But I’m beginning to realize that my ideals can be harmful to myself and my family as they have me striving toward unrealistic goals. Not that there isn’t anything wrong with dreaming and goals. But when those unmet goals make me depressed and cause me to storm through the house in a huff because I’m not getting my way, that’s when they become a problem.

Learning the Art of Flexibility

Once I finally came to terms with the fact that my reality was nothing like what I imagined, I had to learn how to live in my “normal”. In a previous post, I mentioned that my husband is an aircraft mechanic. Now if you are familiar with the world of aviation, then you know that the words ‘normal’ and ‘schedule’ rarely exist in the same sentence. If they do happen to appear together, then the person you are speaking with probably works in the offices.

From the beginning of our marriage, Paul S. had a very unpredictable schedule. At first, he would go in at the same time everyday but we never knew if he would have to work late. After he started his a new position in 2014, the only thing we knew for sure was what days he work. He and his team was required to provide 24 hour coverage for any airplanes that came in during his work days. These were the hardest days for me as we had just moved to a new city and I had a very strong urge to build friendships but could never have anyone over for dinner because I never knew when Paul S. would be home. Thankfully we are in a much more predictable season right now, but that could change with very little warning.

Throughout what seemed like never ending changes, I have learned that the key to survival is to be flexible.

Dinnertime Demons

Flexibility means being willing to adapt to the current situation. For me, this meant trading many ideals for reality, specifically the one involving dinnertime. As I mentioned before, I’d always imagined my husband would be home for dinner, and he is on the weekend, but with his hours being what they are, I have had to learn how to enjoy dinner as the only adult at the table.

This is a challenge for me for a couple of reasons: One, it’s the end of the day. Everyone is emotional due to being tired and hungry (but not for what I made for dinner naturally). Two, because I’m not a natural enforcer. I’d rather the tiny humans run the show while I go hide in my room.

Simple Solutions

Please tell me some of this has resonated with you. Maybe you aren’t in the aviation world but maybe you have had to face your dinner demons (and no I’m not referring to kids).

Obviously, there is nothing we can do about the schedule of our spouse or the children’s attitudes (although, a certain someone does spend a lot of time in his room in the evening because of his behavior). But there are a few things we can do to streamline dinner and keep our cool so we can focus on training our kids.

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  1. Prep meals ahead of time. Even though this idea has been around for a while, I have just started doing it and let me tell you it has been a game changer! I fought it for so long on the simple basis of not having energy after grocery shopping. But now that I do grocery pick up (thank you Walmart!!) I have time and energy on grocery day to prep some meals ahead of time. Because of this, I don’t have to spend most of every evening in the kitchen making dinner. So I can focus on my kiddos during ‘witching hour’. Generally after prepping meals, I have dinner either in the oven or completely ready in under 20 minutes! Not on;y is time saved before dinner, it saves time after dinner as there aren’t as many dishes to do. This means more time to play with the kids when dinner is over, and it means I have more time to relax after they are in bed. (woot! woot!)
  2. Don’t be afraid of prepackaged meals. Healthy living is all the rage these days. Mothers across America are dividing themselves into groups: Crunchy v. Non-Crunchy. Leading to mom-shaming those who do things differently. While I try to lean on the crunchy side and make good healthy meals for my kids, I’m also a big fan of fast and easy, especially on those days where everything is crazy and I forgot to defrost dinner. So don’t let pinterest scare you or make you feel guilty. You do whatever it takes to get your children fed and keep your sanity in the process.
  3. Be Strong. I am a people-pleaser by nature and run from conflict any chance I get. So when I have to face evenings without Paul S. and spend all of dinner arguing with my three year old, I get very frustrated very quickly. I have to remember Paul M’s apparent hatred of the meal I prepared is not personal. It’s just not what he wanted and so he’s throwing a fit. I have to remember that, as his mother, it is my job to care for him body and spirit and sometimes that means going against my natural tenancy to run away and teaching him what behavior is acceptable at the table.

Abundant Grace

Even if you’ve tried these things and they haven’t worked for you, I hope you have found comfort in knowing you aren’t alone this. I also hope you don’t think that my evenings are starting to look like the fairytale image I once pictured. Far, FAR from it. Just this evening, my kids got into the pantry and dumped black pepper EVERYWHERE putting my plans on hold. But on those days where I’m exhausted and lose my temper, I always come back to the promise God made to Paul in 2 Corinthians.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:9

No matter the craziness going on, God has supplied me, and you, with sufficient grace to make it through. And He’s done this so we will remember that it wasn’t by  our hand but His and that we can praise Him for the strength He provided.

5 thoughts on “Dinner Time without Daddy (or Mommy)

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  1. Wait till they start organized sports! Yes, to all of this. And we both used to be in aviation so I know exactly what you mean. When my first born came along 13 years ago his dad was still flying in the airlines. He’s still a pilot now but he’s teaching, not flying anymore. I used to be a flight attendant but before kids, not after, and remember well the schedule chaos.

    You do what you can. Right? Idyllic family dinners do sometimes appear, but certainly they are not the norm in this house either. And my kids are 10 and 13 😉

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  2. Been there, done that. Dinner with littles is always chaotic.
    Some tips…
    1) Make sure they have an appetite when you serve dinner. If they’ve been grazing or drinking a lot in the hour or two beforehand, it’s much more difficult to convince them to eat.
    2) If you find they are melting down from hunger an hour or two before dinner, then serve their dinner earlier than you would eat your own.
    3) As they grow, they will learn to eat at the table with you and someday you will have those pleasant idealistic dinners you’ve dreamt about. (at least sometimes)
    4) When you eat your dinner, role model what eating dinner should look like, even if you are eating at the table by yourself. It won’t be long before they reach that age where it’s fascinating to be with and mirror what the grown ups are doing. If they have eaten earlier, you can still put a little snack at the table which you can give them if they are inclined to come to sit with you at that time. If they haven’t eaten earlier, let them take a few bites of their own dinner and leave to toddle around and return. If they don’t eat a lot, you can always cover their dishes and serve them later if they indicate they are hungry or reheat for lunch tomorrow.
    5) When your husband comes home, if he hasn’t already eaten dinner at work, then you sit down with him while he eats just like you would if he had been home on time. Have a snack or just a drink and talk. Let the little ones decide whether to join you or not. Offer them a snack to eat while daddy eats. This early modeling will set the stage for later when they are older and you can expect more from them in terms of sitting at the table and eating.
    6) When your husband has off work, focus on eating dinner together but keep in mind that dinner time is something special for you and your husband. It will grow to be special to your boys too as time goes on even if they don’t “get it” right now. Your children will see you both sitting down together, talking, using good manners etc. Invite them to sit with you and eat whether it’s their own dinner or just a snack because they ate earlier. Include them a little in the conversation but don’t let them be the main focus. Focus on each other. Your marriage is what holds the family together. In due time, they will join you and be a part of it.

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    1. Thank you Elizabeth for the suggestions! I’m always looking for new strategies to implement!! I also loved the idea of sitting down with him while he eats! Lately we’ve been able to do this over breakfast and it’s been wonderful!

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