Dinnertime for Working Parents

IMG_2621Dear Miss Faith,
My husband and I both work full time.  My husband picks our 2.5yo daughter up from daycare, and I’m cooking when they get home.  I’ve noticed that she really needs some time to snuggle on the couch right when she gets home, so I switch off with my husband.  This is all fine.  The problem comes when it’s time to go to the table, she doesn’t want to–she just wants to stay on the couch and get my attention!  When we get to the table she whines and moans and refuses to eat, and things generally fall apart.  But we all need to eat, and we can’t push it off too long or she can’t get to bed on time.  How can I make this transition smoother?

Dear Mama,
Thanks for writing.  Very astute of you to notice that your daughter needs some time for connection right when she gets home.  Rather than asking, “How can we stop snuggling and get down to the business of eating dinner,” I think a better question might be, “How can we continue feeling connected while we’re at the table?”  Let’s go back for a moment to that transition of being on the couch to getting to the table.  How could that be different from what you’re doing now?  How could you maintain that connection that your daughter clearly loves so much?

Let’s say you’re on the couch snuggling and that’s all she wants to do, but you’re wanting to go to the table and do some eating.  You suggest going to the table, but she refuses.  How can you make being at the table AS enjoyable as being on the couch. You might start with a little humor. “What?!?! You don’t want to go to the table?!?! Boo-hoo-hoo, boo-hoo-hoo, I’ll miss you so much over there.” She laughs and continues to want to be on the couch. You peek through your fingers at her and you tell her, “When we get to the table, I have a special story to tell you. Come on!” Jump up, and if she doesn’t get up too, swing her up in a playful way and carry her to the table, bouncing her along and maybe pretending like you’re going to drop her.  Getting to the table is AS fun as snuggling on the couch–it’s just a different type of fun.

Once you are in your seats, you might ask, “Are you ready for your story? ” (Wait for a nod or expectant look) “Well, let me tell you. This is a story about a little kitten who never wanted to eat her dinner. Mama kitty would go out and catch the most delicious mice, but baby kitten would say No, No, No!” Etc. etc. Perhaps in your story the kitten eats, or perhaps not. The important thing is that you guys are sitting at the table together, and you’re enjoying one another while you’re there. Give it a try and see how it goes!

But obviously the best case scenario is one where food gets into her tummy.  One way to connect at the table that many kids love and also gets food in the mouth is to take bites together. You both get some food on your fork or spoon, and then you lift yours to your mouth exactly as she lifts hers, and then taking your bites at exactly the same moment. Make lots of eye contact while you’re doing it, and make it into a special moment of connection.  You can do this again and again as many times as she enjoys it, perhaps getting a different type of food on your fork each time, or doing a big bite then a small bite, or moving your forks to your mouths at different speeds, etc.

I know that it can be hard to put that type of energy into connecting when you’ve been working all day and everyone’s tired and hungry.  But if you can meet your daughter’s need to reconnect while ALSO getting necessary things done (in this case, eating dinner), then this gives you a little extra time in the day because you’re not separating out what needs to be done from the important process of connecting after a long day apart.  Good luck!

Warmly,    ~Miss Faith

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