Sweet Mess

Today I am going to have my dinner without a side of mom guilt.

Yes, it’d be ideal if my husband was home to eat with us. Yes, it’d be social media-worthy if my daughter picked a bouquet of garden herbs for our centerpiece. Yes, it’d be nice if my son would just try one $%#@ing bite of a green vegetable.

But this family dinner (just like this family) is probably going to be a sweet bit of a mess.

I learned a long time ago that there’s no right way to have family dinner. I grew up splitting time between my mom and dad’s homes, which had very different dinner routines.

In my dad’s house, food was simple and scratch-made. His cooking expertise was limited to about 5 recipes, but he still makes the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. We ate what he made, or were hungry till breakfast. We ate over folding tables in front of the TV, guessing on Jeopardy questions at the end of long days of school and sports and homework. Dinner was the relax and refuel hour of busy days.

My mom, on the other hand, far preferred to eat out or order in. Between multiple jobs and night school, she was too busy trying to bring home the bacon to have time to fry it up in a pan. We’d pile into some diner booth and enjoy some undivided time together.

Both ways got the job done — we ate, we laughed, we talked about our day. We learned a few table manners, and spilled a lot of grape juice on my dad’s white carpet. We built conversation skills, and kicked each other under the table. We shared what was going on in our lives, and resisted green vegetables.

Change that white carpet out for tile, and I’m right back there with my own two kids. Family dinners are a long game of raising civilized little people who make healthy choices. Night by night it can get a little messy, but the payoff is going to be huge at Thanksgiving a decade from now.

In the meantime, we’re just going to keep spending that time together — not perfectly, but as often as we can.

Nicole Vickey is co-founder of Dinner Elf, a company that helps busy families sit down to home-cooked dinners.