We are not a Donna Reed family that eats dinner together every night. I know that’s not ideal. Many studies show that families who eat together have young children with higher vocabulary levels, adolescents who have more nutritionally-sound eating habits, and children of all ages with fewer behavioral problems. Despite all that research, my husband and I prefer not to eat as a family. Instead, we feed our four-year old twin daughters Eden and Tal, put them to bed, and then eat dinner just the two of us – and the TV. We do this because my husband’s work schedule is unpredictable; he may come home past the kids’ bedtime. And he never seems to know what time he’ll be home until he’s literally on his way home. But we want the kids on a regular bedtime schedule so they eat their dinner first.
Last Night, Time with One Child
So after we put the girls to bed last night, we settled on the couch with our dinner plates, ready to tackle our Netflix queue. But parents plan and God laughs. As soon as we sat, we noticed that Tal had left her bed and was headed downstairs. Eden was fast asleep, but Tal barreled downstairs like she was wide awake. Only she wasn’t. She was inadvertently giving us all the signs that she was actually quite tired: yawning and rubbing her eyes. Yet there she was, smiling and trying to engage us in conversation.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t kind of annoyed – I just wanted to unwind in front of the TV and eat dinner. I had been on my feet all day and this was my time to sit for more than three minutes.
But I’d also be lying if I said that I wasn’t charmed by her. I couldn’t help it. Tal was being extremely cute and entertaining. She told “jokes” (in quotes because she’s four and needs to work on her delivery). Tal sang a song that she made up on the spot. She asked us humorous questions, most of which we could not answer with fact or truth.
Tal was so engaging. But she was so tired — so very, very tired. And she kept resisting our offers to bring her to her room and stay with her while she fell asleep. Clearly, the time we were spending with her was much more precious to her than sleep.
Why She Was Acting This Way
We had had a rough week. With obligations and events that filled the post-school day, we had very little down-time and thus, very little connection-time. Add to all that the fact that her sister Eden is half of any equation. Eden is always present – talking to us, asking us questions, requesting food or other resources, etc.
So last night, because Eden was asleep and Tal could have me and my husband all to herself, she could not resist — even though her body was begging her for some rest.
I am certain that had we had some quality one-on-one time or – even better – two-on-one time (where it was both parents and just Tal), she would not have stayed up so late to be with us. She had to create that time. She had to carve it out independently because we had not done so for her.
We Don’t Eat Together, and That’s Okay
Sometimes I feel guilty that we don’t all eat dinner together as a family. But if I’m going to change one thing about how my husband and I are running this family, it will be adding more quality one-on-one time with each child. That means less time all together. But in this case, as Tal’s desperate attempts to stay up late with us reveal, that’s a good – no, necessary – thing.