Much as I'd love to sit down to a peaceful, candlelit dinner where the delicate clink of silverware and china plays in the background as my perfectly groomed and mannered family discusses literature and world events, it just ain't gonna happen. At least not anytime soon. While we may not be White House - ready for the foreseeable future, I do want to instill manners in my kids. However, I don't want to nag them relentlessly with a long list of thou-shalt-nots at the dinner table. I truly believe having dinner together every night is one of the most important things I can do for my family; although, I think all my effort will be for naught if it turns into a chore that everyone dreads.
So for now, I'm focused on making dinner a fun time that everyone looks forward to. It's not always (or even often) easy. There are days I get exhausted just thinking about cooking and doing the dishes, but I never regret making the effort. My children are young enough that I'm not overly concerned with good manners. I trust that by providing a consistent, good example, some fun lessons, and a few gentle reminders, they'll eventually learn what they need to know. In the meantime, here are some areas where I've completely relaxed my standards:
1. It's okay to eat naked. If you're under two. Or the kids aren't home.
2. I still get credit if we use paper plates.
3. Anything that gets them laughing counts as good dinner table conversation. It's not really in my nature to be goofy and silly. My husband, however, excels at it. And the kids love it. So I try to go with it. I keep a book of corny jokes within easy reach of the dining room table and use it frequently. Even the baby has learned to say, "Knock, knock!" though he hasn't mastered, "Who's there?" yet. I also refer to this book a lot for ideas. I like all of Jane Healy's books and this one provides a lot of conversation starters that even the adults will find interesting.
4. If all else fails, a bucket of takeout fried chicken eaten standing up around the kitchen island is still family dinner. It's the family in family dinner that's the crucial part.