Last fall, my life went through a busy season outside the home. I live in Maine. The changes between the seasons here are stark so, I don’t stress too much about busy seasons of life because I know, much the way summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter that, business outside the home will eventually slow down, and slow done it has. In every area of home life, I look around and see an unkept garden of chaos that I didn’t have time to see when I was busy! In this slow season, I am focusing attention on regaining the control that’s been lost.
This series was conceived, not in the quiet contemplation over a morning cup of coffee (I just laughed typing that out- 3 children later, I vaguely remember what it’s like to have those moments) but, at a chaotic dinner meal while the toddler was crawling across the table and a non-stop flow of, “Can I have___” type questions that had me hopping up and down as if I were the maid. There was fighting, screaming, standing up on benches, declarations of being finished (before they were), leaving the table at one’s own discretion, and sneaking off to the kitchen to grab dessert. It was then, that my thoughts became clear:
I need to regain control.
Starting with The Family Meal, here’s how I’m doing it:
- Be preemptive: The first thing I needed to do was to plan, anticipating some of the “Can I’s” ahead of time. That was one of the ways I was shooting myself in the foot. Set the table with EVERYTHING that is included with the meal before we all sit down.
- Set clear dinner time rules: I told them when they could be excused and how. Our rules include: staying at the table until everyone has finished a first serving (even if you finish long before everyone else), asking to get up if you need something more than what was set or asking to leave the table when you’re done, and for my middle, literal child: waiting for granted permission. To nip the dessert problem in the bud: no one gets dessert until everyone’s meal is finished.
- Communicate the rules: Communicate them clearly the first meal and allow for several reminders. Communicate the rules at the start of every meal until they don’t need to be communicated anymore. It takes time to build habits, especially good ones.
- Set up consequences: The consequence for a flagrant disregard of what I would consider basic table manners (I mean really? I’m not even talking about elbows on the table!) is a loss of dessert . . . even if they cleaned their plate.
Just a few nights in and this has already proven to be a beautiful thing. As I sat watching my family act like civilized humans instead of wild animals, as I watched them conversing and enjoying each other during our family meal, I heaved a sigh of relief and thought about what to work on next . . .