When I was growing up, we had breakfast (fend for yourself, usually a pop tart for me) then lunch at school, a snack after school, and dinner with the family in the evening. There would sometimes be a bedtime snack. ‘Tea Time’ meant you were a four-year-old girl having a party with your stuffed animals. (Or hamsters, as pictured above.)
When my hubby and I went back to school in our late twenties, we got in the habit of having breakfast when we arrived on campus, lunch in the dining hall around noon, and dinner as soon as we got out of our last class around 5pm. Dinners in the dining hall were always long affairs, sitting around a large table with friends, many of whom would come and go over the course of an hour or two. It was very pleasant… I miss it.
Now we are in our mid forties, with one kid in high school and another in first grade. They not only have lunch at school, but one or two snacks as well. (One snack counts as breakfast…I don’t quite understand that, but, oh well.) Although we encourage our kids to eat breakfast before they go to school, it’s not required. They’re hungry when they get home from school, so they have a snack, and then we…we used to…have dinner as a family.
Having dinner as a family, around the table, is a wonderful way to catch up on the day, to teach manners, and generally have some quality family time. But it doesn’t always work out that way. A few years ago, we took in a roommate from the college where we both worked because she was a friend and she needed a place to stay. It was a bad idea, for many reasons that became evident in hindsight. She was invited but not required to sit with us for family meals, which took as meaning that I was running a dining hall that would serve her whenever she darn well pleased. One evening, she left about a half hour before dinner, leaving it ambiguous whether she’d be back to eat with us. When our family sat down, we called her (knowing she was just a few doors down the block) and politely told her that dinner was being served and asked if she was going to eat with us. Her answer was ‘I dunno…maybe.’
I let her have it when she came home, and I don’t mean dinner. More and more frequently, I decided that dinner would be ‘here is the food, everyone make yourself a plate and eat wherever you want to eat.’ We rarely ate around the table anymore.
I don’t want to say that one bad roommate was the death of family dinners. There were other reasons too. Both hubby and I recently got dentures. It’s a wonderful thing, really, as it cleared up several health issues for both of us. But eating with dentures is sometimes uncomfortable, or takes much longer to chew. If someone asks me a question while I’m eating, I either have to put my hand in front of my mouth and talk with my mouth full, or they’ll have to wait two or three minutes or longer before I can answer them. Then hubby had stomach surgery, which radically changed the way he eats. He can’t eat an entire ‘normal’ serving of dinner. He has to eat very small meals, very slowly.
Even then, dinner was still a problem. Although our teenager usually eats with no problem, neither girl was ever actually hungry at dinner time. A few times, I did something I thought was rather silly. I switched dinner time and snack time. They would eat dinner as soon as they got home from school, when they were hungriest, and then have a snack later if they wanted to. Then it occurred to me… although it might seem silly, this worked.
In some parts of the world, this isn’t silly at all. It’s tea time. A light (or large, depending on the custom) meal in the late afternoon. The tradition began out of necessity when luncheon was at mid day and dinner was at eight.
It works for us.
Motherhood is not turning out to be as I once imagined it would. I don’t bake nearly as often as I used to. We have different traditions and different rules because that is what works for our family. A large part of that is accommodating a child with special needs (our teen,) some of it is the changing world and society, and some of that is just us. Serendipity. We planned to go left, but ended up going right, and it turned out OK anyway.
Have you ever discovered, changed, or created a tradition or a way of doing something that, although it didn’t seem ‘normal’, worked out better for you and yours?