“I’m not eating this.”
“You never make anything I like.”
“Do I have to eat all my supper?”
“I HATE chicken!”
“But Mooo-oooom, I can’t remember anything about my day at school!”
“Can I be done now?”
The glares, the folded arms, the insubordination. Doesn’t exactly scream “quality family time” does it?
Family dinners just never came together for our family of three. Dinners around the kitchen table were less than fulfilling. Wiping up baby food sliding down the wall, stopping our son from diving headfirst off his highchair just in the nick of time, making assurances that there are NO ONIONS in the casserole for the 87th time… mealtimes felt more like triage than quality time.
As our son grew up we still tried making the dinner table our gathering place. We really did. But it was frustrating, difficult, and pointless to force our family to connect, like jamming a square peg in a round hole. Supper after disappointing supper we tried to conform. Eventually, we realized we are not the same unit my parents, brother and I were. We aren’t the Cleavers. We don’t resemble the families in television ads for tater tots.
Parenthood is a steady stream of parenting peer pressure urging you to make sure family dinner becomes a tradition in your family. Popular culture, screams, “You’re failing your child if you don’t eat together as a family!” Countless parenting magazines, books, and blogs lay on the guilt, deeming it essential for your child’s educational and emotional success. If you love your child, if you want the best for your child, you’ll all sit around the kitchen table cheerfully talking and connecting with each other.
Using drive time to connect
Is it any wonder we ended up finding our quality time behind the wheel? Once we stopped trying to force it, our own “dinner table” evolved on its own. For us, drive time has become dinner time. Not in the sense that we’re eating our meals in the car, though sometimes we do that as well. It’s dinner time in the sense that many our quality conversations and connections happen while we’re on the way somewhere.
“Football should be the national pass time. Not baseball.”
“Today my friends and I started writing a series of books called The Potty Cleanup Crew.” I’m writing book three. It’s called Yellow Snow.”
“What do you think Grandma and Grandpa are doing today?”
“What do ear tubes look like? Are they clear and microscopic?”
“I think so many people live in Green Bay because of the football team.”
These are slices of conversations our son initiated in the car. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather listen to this any day than enforce, cajole and argue my way through a “family supper”.
It makes sense that our best conversations are happening in the car. We spend lots of time together in the car. School, work, sports, groceries, and scouts are all a bit of a hike from our house. There are no distractions- no television shows waiting, no games half finished, no cleaning looming, no excuses to rush through dinner and do something else. You have nothing but time to fill until you arrive at your destination. If difficult conversations happen, you can’t get away. Seat belts are like little enforcers. The worst thing you can do is look out the window and avoid making eye contact in the rear-view mirror.
All you have to do to set the stage for great conversation is make sure not to turn on the music and ban mobile devices. There’s not only great conversations happening in our car. We’re also learning- from making estimates (how many Canada Geese do you estimate are in that field?) to using maps and GPS. Parents, whatever your agenda, the car is a great place to promote it. My agenda happens to include 90s music, manners, and Doctor Who.
The family car is our dinner table?
As a child, I also grew up making see-food jokes, bickering with my brother, and doing my best to get out of eating the vegetable of the day. I’m not sure how my mom survived those (what had to be) agonizing family meals. I do know it’s not for me. For many of us, the days of Mom and Dad sitting at the dinner table with their rosy cheeked children are gone. Sports, scouts, varying work schedules all make dinner time a fluid concept for many of us. By making our drive time meaningful, when we step out of the car and head for the house to get started on homework, making dinner, baths, and chores there’s no pressure to cram our connecting into a 15 minute meal. We’ve already made our quality time.
It’s 2016. As parents we need to give ourselves a break. We don’t have to connect at the dinner table. We can do it behind the wheel, on the bike path, or on family field trips. Is drive time replacing dinner time? I don’t know about you, but for us, the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’