Terrible mother seeks redemption: dinner-time edition

Here is my secret shame. Which I can only tell you about now that I’m doing something about it. Because up till now I’ve just been a bad parent, and no matter how much everyone pretends to blog about their terrible parenting, nobody really does.

Increasingly, totally, I’ve been feeding my children their dinner by bringing a plate into them while they watch TV. Dash, we know (bad parenting already acknowledged), has a sandwich on a plate. Mabel might have a bowl of pasta, which she would eat with her fingers although I definitely gave her a fork. There might be some broccoli in there. She might have had an apple or there might not. There might be some chicken, which I would offer and she would reject. It was all very terrible and reeked of atrocious parenting and yet I was powerless to change it. It made my life easier because once they were nominally “fed” I could make something nice for B and me and we could eat it in peace while they continued to watch TV. Mostly, I was lazy and blaming it on the children.

Two nights ago I decided I’d had enough. I was sick of being the waitress in the movie theatre of my home. I called a family meeting, got out my trusty notebook, and wrote a list.

This was basically how it went:

  • Aim: We need to eat dinner together at the table.
  • Difficulties: They don’t want to wait till 6pm. B can’t come home earlier than 6pm. How can I get them to wait longer, and then to turn off the TV and sit with us?

The answer, as usual, was bribery. Sorry, I mean a star chart. They now both have clear motivating factors – an Anna doll (from Frozen, that Anna, of course) for Mabel and more money for Dash, who likes acquiring money and has no immediate plans to spend it on anything.

I put forth my plan, as follows: That we all have dinner at 6pm every night; that we all sit together and eat our food with nice manners. That in return, I will provide food that people like, and also a hearty snack at after-school-time so that they can wait until six for dinner.

Then I got them to help me list food they like for dinner (Mabel, that is) and for snacks, so that I could go shopping. And we agreed on the star system, of course. They can earn a total of three stars per dinner: one for eating at the table, one for using good manners, and one for trying/eating a new food. (Definition of “trying” is at my discretion. Because for Dash sometimes a lick counts; for Mabel I expect a bit more than that.) And I get a star for every dinner-for-four I get on the table, because mums need motivation too.

Once Dash stopped shouting at me because he wanted to have the meeting in what he had decided should be the “meeting room” (aka the front room) and I wanted to stay at the kitchen table, the rest of the discussion went down a treat. They loved being part of the decision-making process, they really did.

Last night too, things went surprisingly well. I’m still making three (mostly) separate dinners, but first things first. Dash sat at the table while we ate cooked food that he could smell (quinoa, kale, chicken) and didn’t complain about it. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but for him it’s a big deal. Mabel ate her pasta and peas with a fork. They both tried some raw carrot: Dash didn’t like it and Mabel has found a new favourite food. (They have both had carrrot before, I promise.)

I made the table a bit more exciting by letting them both drink their milk out of small, sturdy wine glasses, which they loved. I’m thinking tonight I might put fancy napkins at each place, if only to stop Dash wiping his fingers on his sweater.

So we all got our stars last night. I have decreed that they will earn 5c per star, which doesn’t sound like much but works out to 1.05 at the end of the week, which effectively doubles Dash’s allowance and will get Mabel to her Anna doll a lot sooner than she otherwise would. I have not yet decided what my reward will be, but I’ll be making sure I get one.

Will it work? Will it fall by the wayside like so many others of our star charts? Will I be ferrying food back into the TV room in a week’s time? I suppose it’s up to me, really. I do feel better for having started it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a pizza to put together.

Children sitting at the table

Dash dictates exactly how much pizza he might taste.

12 thoughts on “Terrible mother seeks redemption: dinner-time edition

  1. Thrift Store Mama

    “…and no matter how much everyone pretends to blog about their terrible parenting, nobody really does.” I love how you call it like you see it.

    I don’t think it matters if this star chart falls by the wayside – I think you use it until you get the desired behavior and then if the chart falls by the wayside it doesn’t matter.

    You also reminded me that my New Year’s resolution was to start cooking proper meals again!

    1. Maud

      Thank you, TSM! Yes, of course, I hope for this to be The New Way Forward, and to last forever. The star chart is just to give us that initial impetus to change our terrible habits.

  2. Naomi Lavelle

    Think you have this one well planned out and sorted, I love the way you handled it! I’m going to use your star chart idea to tackle some issues here too. I have tried it before but have not set it out as well as you did… thanks!

    1. Maud

      This is not my first star chart rodeo. Which means the kids know how it works and are enthusiastic; and just doing it gives me back some sort of illusion of control over what goes on, which is probably good for my mental state. 🙂

  3. tric

    I always sat and ate with the kids and then just had a cuppa while my husband had his dinner later. Now they are older I eat with my husband but I sit at the table with them while they eat the three different dinners I prepare! It is only when they are older that you will see the benefit of getting them used to eating together. It is a great time.
    Every Sunday we all eat together, and now they hate to miss that dinner.
    Keep trying and trust me you will be so glad in years to come.
    As for a star chart linked to money, never failed in my house.

    1. Maud

      My husband’s family always had a family sunday dinner even when most of them had moved out; it was really special and something I’d love to perpetuate. I always ate dinner at the table with my parents at home; it was something I thought would be easy and obvious to do with my kids. And yet… So I really hope this gets us on track.

  4. Emily

    We always eat dinner together. BUT!!! (I’m laughing guiltily at my guilty secret) there are nights when everyone is contrary and dinner is late and I’m demented and I prop the iPad on the table and let them watch shite while they eat their dinner, and I get to eat without having indigestion listening to them. It doesn’t happen every night simply by dint of the fact that I have to physically restrain myself from handing them the iPad… So I’ll jump into the Terrible Mother boat with you 🙂

    1. Maud Post author

      Plenty of room in the boat.

      Mabel had a total meltdown today because the TV schedule changes on Saturdays and there’s a second episode of their favourite show at 6pm, when we turned it off. She didn’t get a star for eating with us tonight. But she did eat at the table afterwards. And she used her fork. Some of the time.

  5. Helen O'Keeffe

    Fair play Mama Maud! We do breakfast and dinner together here and I’m more insistant on the ritual of socialising than what gets eaten. Somedays they demolish everything, others they barely touch it. Manners are dodgy at best and theres an accidental knocking over of a glass nearly every day but I think its still a sound idea. We did a trip to ikea a while back and got fantabulously garish plastic wine glasses and bright new table mats which went down a storm. Have tried napkins in lieu of wiping-porridge-on-trousers but thats yet to catch on! Also get them involved in setting the table as they love that here – though in fairness mine are younger than yours. Keep fighting the good fight! X

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