When I was growing up, we ate dinner together every single night. This may have changed when I was in high school and my dad commuted home from out of town on the weekends, but for the majority of my life, dinner together sitting at the table was our way of life.
I didn't realize how important this was to me and to who I am until N and I moved in together. I remember once getting my feelings terribly hurt because he ate dinner without me and didn't even ask what I wanted! It was so ingrained in me to have that time together, it never occurred to me that anyone did anything differently.
Our first house did not have a casual kitchen, but rather a dining room which was just a few feet from our family room where the TV was. Our routine quickly became eating in front of the TV. When BBZ was born and began eating solid food, we would usually sit in the dining room and eat while BBZ was in his high chair.
He ate in his high chair until we moved into our new house. At that time we set up a little table in the small living room where he began to eat his snacks. I remember having him eat at the table with us a few times, but I quickly learned that he would eat all of his food and often twice as much if he was in front of the TV. Having a child in the 10th-25th percentile in weight makes way for bad habits like this. Especially since it seemed to help him eat.
So this became our normal. He ate every meal at home in front of the TV either at the coffee table or at his little table, depending on what room he was in. Since I cook dinner (nearly) every night, we all ate at the same time, but BBZ would eat in the little room watching his show. I was huge and pregnant and would sit at the table since it was easiest, and N would sit in the big room watching what he wanted to watch.
I always knew we would sit together as a family eventually. I figured it would happen at some point, but I made the decision to change the way we eat when I noticed the way BBZ started behaving in restaurants. We like to go to restaurants and often do on the weekends. BBZ's behavior was starting to ruin our meals out. He wouldn't sit still, would crawl under the table, would constantly complain and would barely eat a few bites of food. I realized that the only time I was teaching him how to sit at the table was about once/week when we ate out. Little Mister was not learning a thing.
So one weekend night I told N that I wanted to start eating dinner together as a family at the table in our dining room. He was on board, so one Saturday night I cooked dinner and called to everyone that it was ready. BBZ went to sit at his little table to watch his movie and I let him know that we were going to eat at the table together rather than in from of the TV. What happened next, I did not see coming.
He threw a fit. And I don't mean a small fit, I mean a 45-minute long screaming fit about wanting to watch a movie. I was totally unprepared for it. Once I said it though, I had to stick to my guns, so I did. Eventually he calmed down and came to the table to eat. I kept saying to N that I just didn't see that coming. I really didn't think it was a big deal. I had no idea that he was that stuck on his routine. Crazy. Had I known I would have talked about it all day or lead up to it or something. Whew, lesson learned.
The next night he came to the table for dinner with no questions. He did say to me though, "is this better, mommy?" "Better than what?", I said. "Better than me screaming?" It sure was :)
Other than the occasional question about watching a movie at dinner time, the new routine is working beautifully. He still wiggles and moves and doesn't eat as well as he does in front of the TV, but I think the trade off is definitely worth it. He's still a skinny-mini at only 30 pounds at 3 years old, but I think this is building a routine that our family will follow for years to come. LBZ is already sitting at the table with us in his little high chair, so it really is a family dinner. I've even nursed him at the table while eating my dinner. It is dinner time for all of us, after all.
BBZ still eats breakfast every day and lunch on the weekends in front of the TV. He also has a family style meal with his friends for lunch at school. I figure as long as he has one meal a day with all of us, I have time to teach him how to behave at a table. It's been about a month or so now, and I know things will just keep improving.
I actually asked him one of the first nights during dinner what happens when he gets up from the table at school and he says to me..."I don't get up from the table at school", like the idea of him doing so was completely absurd. Ha, I guess I should be happy that he reserves his naughty behavior for us at home! At least I can be the one teaching him my expectations this way.