My daughters attend a YMCA after school program located at their public elementary school. At the end of the school day, when the other kids rush off to their parents, my girls and their friends head over to the school cafeteria to check into after school care. Well, this year, their teacher often lets them help around the classroom with her daughter, M’s best friend, so my twins can avoid the check-in chaos in the cafeteria.
New this year, they’ve started offering children dinner at 5:30. The kids who are still there are fed food from the next day’s school lunch. It’s a win-win situation. The school’s food doesn’t go to waste and the after school kids don’t get crabby from hunger.
When I picked up J and M on their first day of second grade, I was surprised to learn that they had already eaten. Part of me was sad that we wouldn’t have our family dinner together. The lack of family dinner went against one of my core parenting philosophies. I was miffed not to have the opportunity to assure my children a homemade meal in which every ingredient was high quality and nutritious.
It took me less than a week to fall in love with dinner at the Y. We suddenly have an extra hour or more together in the evenings. Instead of a mad rush to make and eat dinner, check homework, and get ready for bed between 6:30 and 8:30, we have time to talk and play between the homework check and bedtime routine. Instead of hungry, grumpy kids who haven’t had a meal in nearly 7 hours, I have happy, energetic little girls bursting with news from their day.
We get home and there’s no sense of urgency. Once the girls put their backpacks away, our time is our own. One night this week, J sat down with her knitting and phoned her grandmother while M and I read, snuggled up on the couch. Another evening, M entertained us with a high energy 45-minute rendition of Feliz Navidad, switching between a hairbrush and a remote control for her microphone and her sister’s head and mine for percussion. Last night, M spent an hour telling me, in great detail, all about her PE lesson, while J played with our cats, drew ducks and swans, and worked on some optional math homework. I can’t remember the last time M told a complete story on a weekday, in her own way without me trying to rush her along.
There’s been a lot more laughter in our house since the school year began. There’s been a lot more singing and dancing on weeknights. My house is cleaner than it’s been in a long time; I can fold laundry and dust while I’m talking to my daughters. I now wait until they’re in bed to eat my own dinner.
Providing excellent nutrition to my children has always been high on my list of priorities, but I’m now reevaluating those priorities. Nutrition is important, of course, but the school lunches aren’t awful. Yes, they’re mass produced and include some processed foods, but there’s a large number of dishes produced from scratch, and they, like me, include a whole grain, protein and vegetable in every meal. Far more valuable is the time I spend with my kids, and spending it over food didn’t work nearly as well for us.
I say good riddance to weeknight family dinners, and welcome weeknight family time.
Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.