Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dinner Together? Real Life Struggles with an Active Teen

Last week my 14 year old daughter did not eat dinner with our family at all during the week. Up until then I've been able to coordinate our schedules, juggle our dinner time hour, and make family dinners happen most nights. Usually winter is a peak time for us with family dinners. Our busy sports and performance seasons have usually been the spring and fall. So last week was the first time that I can remember that we did not have one single dinner Monday through Friday where all five of us were present. The other four of us were together during the week and then my absent daughter was present for meals on the weekend.

I was left feeling discouraged. How could I, someone who values family meals so much that she named her business "Dinner Together," go a full week without her daughter being present at dinner?

So how did it happen? Well, now that my daughter is in high school, most of her extracurricular activities are through the school and many of them take place in the evening. I know I've been blessed with a very active, highly self-motivated, over-achieving child. Our usually calm winters are now filled with cheerleading and the school play in addition to all the usual activities she's involved with. This week has been better. It's only Tuesday and we've already had one meal all together.

I know the research on the association between mental health variables and teens who eat at least 5 meals per week with their families. Now that I'm in those teen years myself, I'm hoping that the reasons that keep a teen away from family dinners can mediate the association between those variables. I'm also hoping that weekend meals carry some weight. I'm also hoping that it's the overall pattern and not individual bad weeks that matter most. And I'm also hoping that the words of wisdom I received once from the acclaimed Ellyn Satter hold true: sometimes just valuing eating together and trying to make it happen is good enough (paraphrased).

Seeing as I'm relatively new to being the parent of a teenage, I'd love to hear from those of you with teens about how you've managed to make family meals happen. What strategies have helped you?


  1. Hi Kathleen:

    It really IS a challenge once the kids are in high school, especially if they're busy.

    In addition to school, sports and orchestra, my two high schoolers each work two evenings a week.

    So currently we're down to just 2 out of 7 days when ALL of us can sit down together.

    I concentrate on keeping the dinner ritual--even if it's only two of us. I refuse to give in to pizza or convenience food, but instead always make a simple, scratch-cooked meal.

    Sometimes, if it's just me and my youngest, we forgo setting the dining table and instead curl up on the couch. But no computers, TV or books.

    I also try to gather the family together for other meals:

    * Hot breakfasts
    * Tea--on a special tea tray with teapot, cups and saucers, etc.
    * Late night dessert and tea before kids settle in for long hours of homework.
    * Sunday brunch
    * Sunday mid-day dinner--serve the big meal in the middle of the day.

  2. Great ideas Lorraine. Thanks so much for sharing. I especially like the idea of late night dessert and tea.

  3. I'm learning with this, too. Sometimes I just make it very simple and adjust the dinner hour. For example, tonight my husband needed to return to work by 6p so we ate 1 hour earlier. Last night supper was a big pot of veggie chili that we ate 1 hour later so everyone could be together. Not perfect, but we did have a chance to catch up on the news with each other. The timing of dinner becomes more challenging the older the kids are. Maybe just having a plate of food waiting for them, and someone taking the time to chat/sit with them when they do eat helps the child feel connected to the family.

  4. Thanks for sharing your great advice Cindy. I think you're absolutely right in having to be flexible about the scheduling of dinner time and also in just being available to sit and chat. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to learn with this too!


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