Let me paint a picture of an afternoon ‘round at my place. I work from home three or four days a week. My colleagues are five, three and ten months old. By the time 4:30pm rolls around, without fail each and every day I’m blindsided. “I swear it was only 2:30?!” Nope, once again some sneaky little time thief has made their way into my house and stolen come crucial ‘get myself together’ time.
By mid-afternoon, my house looks like a bomb has hit it. Most days I’m convinced that if a burglar broke in, they’d take one look around and assume someone had already ransacked the joint. There’s cushions everywhere from intense cubby building, each and every toy my children own have been thrown around the house and the washing that I intended on folding has now found its way onto the floor.
For some reason my kids like to have dinner every day (so needy!) and so I take off my ‘writer’ hat and throw on the ‘chef’ one.
It's important that kids have a set routine when it comes to meal time. Image: iStock.
There was a time when I enjoyed cooking. It was a time when I had hours to perfect my bolognese, an entire afternoon to bake and decorate cupcakes for a friend. But cooking these days is different. I’m stressed and I’m rushed. I know the hungry eyes will start looking up at me and the “What’s for dinner tonight, mum” questions will start.
By the time the meal actually hits the table, I’m usually over it in all senses of the word. I’m tired, cranky and am watching the clock creep towards bed time. My son also happens to be going through a particularly fussy stage so no matter what I serve up, I can almost guarantee there will be an issue. “I said I didn’t like anything green”, “I don’t like squishy food”, “This looks like cat food”. It’s tiring to say the least.
The thing is though that dinner time in our house is special. Like most young families we are busy but the time between finishing work and lights out is special. It’s our time. We sit around the table and catch up. Even though my kids are with me during the day I don’t really have the time to connect with them the way I can at dinner time. There are no competing priorities, no pressing deadlines.
"I don’t really have the time to connect with them the way I can at dinner time". Image: iStock.
In our family we play games at dinner. Usually we start with “What was your favourite thing that happened today” Usually my middle child (the clown) throws out something so bizarre that we all erupt in hysterics. Once we’ve done our trip around the table the kids start on what they call the “sea game”. It was started by my in-laws who are fishing nuts. Basically, everyone has to go around the circle and name a sea creature. I know my kids answers off by heart but still, each night we nod and “ahhh” when my son says “lemon shark”, “mantra ray” and “squid” like a well-rehearsed play.
My kids know that at dinner time they have our attention, but recently I’ve noticed that even our special family time was being impact by the busyness of life. I was there, but I wasn’t really there: physically I was sitting there, but mentally I was wandering. My mind was still spinning from running the gauntlet that is making dinner with three kids at your feet. I hadn’t had time to ‘switch off’ between my job and my mum role.
"I hadn’t had time to ‘switch off’ between my job and my mum role." Image: iStock.
So I imposed a night off. Once a week I down tools in a sense and we order dinner for the family. It’s our red card, my get out of dinner stress free card. I use it on the days when everything on top of me and cooking dinner for everyone will send me over the edge, and it’s nice for the kids to feel like they’re having a treat. One of their favourites is KFC, and when paired with their sides like corn wheels and potato and gravy, it’s a complete family meal.
This night off is so important in fact that it’s now a part of our family budget. Mentally it does the world of good. I know that everyone will get a full tummy and my kids never seem to have issues with other peoples cooking (huh!). My mind is clear and I’m ready to hear “lemon shark”, “manta ray” and “squid” like I’ve never heard it before. It’s this night that gets me out of the “busy mum” head-space and reminds me how lucky I am to be able to spend quality time with my family.
So if you’re in charge of dinner in your household I’d strongly suggest you set up a “night off” card to be used on “those days”.
How do you like to spend your family quality time?
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