I have been planning to write this blog post for a while now.
I’ve been thinking through the cunningness of it all, this revolutionary idea that goes against most everything written about quality family time.
You see, a few months ago, we decided that having dinner together as a family was not important.
I was thinking this through recently, and how I would share this idea. I was preparing to speak to a group of fellow mamas on how to invest fully in the 936 weeks that we have with our children from birth until age eighteen. And I kept coming back to this thought: This journey—those 936 weeks—they will look different for each one of us.
God has gifted us with our own unique story, graciously woven into His bigger story. And how these 936 weeks unfold will look different from family to family. All of our unique circumstances, situations, and values play into the shape of these weeks, and how we choose to invest them well.
For my own crew, that meant dropping our family dinner time.
It started while we were on our seven-week road trip to the Pacific Northwest. During that trip my husband was training for his upcoming 50k trail race. He was counting miles stride by stride under the moss-covered trees of Washington, while the boys and I read My Side of the Mountain and rode bikes at our campsites. The long miles often ran into dinnertime, and I would fix the boys their own meal. Grayson and I would then enjoy our own dinner after the boys were down for bed. I justified all of this with the fact that we eat breakfast together nearly every morning, so we still had time around the table. This routine continued after we settled back into a house.
Until it didn’t.
In my home, the realization that a strategy is not working often comes with a breakdown—usually my own—as we find ourselves completely at loss as to why our plan didn’t work. This is where we found ourselves a couple of weeks ago.
I leaned against the kitchen counter, tears making their way down my cheeks as the boys sat at the table and I confessed to my husband, “I just don’t know what we’re doing wrong. Why the boys are behaving this way.” They had been touchy, misbehaving, grumpy, sensitive. They hadn’t been themselves, and we didn’t know how to “fix” this new normal.
I think this is a common place in parenthood. A gathering ground, where we all find ourselves—often—unraveled, uncertain, full of doubt and at a complete loss of answers. How many times do we arrive at this place depleted and defeated? Ready for an answer but not sure that it will come? Far too many times I feel like we are winging it. I wonder where the confidence is that I saw in my own parents while they raised me and my siblings—did they feel this uncertain of their own plans and strategies?
“Maybe this is where we need to start.” My husband motioned toward the table where the boys were eating their dinner. We hadn’t joined them. I nodded silently. And that evening after the kids were in bed, Grayson and I sat down and wrote a meal plan for the week. “Dinner is at six o’clock every night, that’s just what it will be.” He said decisively. And I relaxed into the comfort of a plan, a routine—a normal.
It is true, that these 936 weeks while we raise our babies into adults, the journey is unique and beautiful and individual for each of us. But what I have come to realize this past week is nothing outside of profound: family dinner is sacred. There is no getting around that. And I no longer want to get around it. Because even on those evenings when the toddler is running laps around the living room between bites, the four-year-old is refusing green beans, and the little boy jokes around the table are anything but appropriate—this regular practice of coming together, it is glue.
No matter the chaos or noise or complaints that come to that table—holy ground is there. Right in the midst of the struggle. And that holy space grows and breathes and forms this family foundation every time we come. This is where security is sewn. This is a sure thing. This is a dependable force in a world of uncertainty. This is us, choosing us. This is where words of hope and vulnerability and worth and struggle and triumph and life find a voice. Not every evening. Some will be ordinary. But isn’t that ordinary a thing to be celebrated, too, when it’s enjoyed side-by-side with our people?
I know that through these weeks and years and time that makes up their childhood, there will be so many things that try and pull us apart. So many things will battle for our attention. Relationships and commitments and the complexity of raising kids will try and break this bond that we are fighting so hard to preserve. And this—this dependable time together each evening—it is indispensable in this battle. And it is one of the greatest gifts we can give our family.
I was wrong. And I am so glad that I was. Because sometimes the greatest lessons of parenthood are stumbled upon only when we make a mistake.
So let’s make those mistakes well. And talk about them with our family between the roast chicken, potatoes, green beans, and little-boy jokes.