You can listen to the NPR audio of this post HERE.
If you cannot tell by the size of my...uh, "personality"; meals matter around my house. We LOVE FOOD. We are at times both snobby (good beer) and sleazy (Cheese Pringles). My husband and I both have grown up with family dinner being a fact of life and so we bring that into our parenting mindset. Many a friend has complimented my two and a half year old daughter Portia on her table manners. While it is tempting to feel proud, I want neither all the praise nor all the blame for anything parenting oriented! That said, I believe part of Portia's table manners are due to the fact she doesn't know any better (or in this case, any worse)!
Since she was born she has eaten most meals at the table with John and I. True, in the beginning she was actually on the table in a bouncy seat, but she was there. From first dribbled baby cereal meals in her pink Bumbo, to reclined in a chair top baby seat, to fully upright and no tray (and I will do it all myself thank you) and finally just a booster seat she has eaten meals with us. I know lots of parents feed the baby first which is probably a lot easier but I was never smart enough to do that. Instead we trooped to and from the table to set everyone's food and drinks and cutlery and what not on the table. We waited for everyone to sit, gave thanks to God for our meal and maybe other random concerns, and dove in.
Portia never got a chance to throw food. She never did anything during mealtime other than sit with us and eat. She didn't know any better because she always ate with adults who don't throw food (usually!) or get up and down from the table or play with toys or whatever little kids should be doing at a meal. She rarely got a substitute food or drink item if she didn't care for the current offering. (Partly because I am lazy and really want to enjoy my food, partly because I wanted to avoid the parental short order cook role.) She only saw my husband and I eating fairly politely, if you overlook belching. (Ok flatulence. There may occasionally be flatulence but we excuse ourselves right away. She can tell her therapist about it later.) She saw us talking over our day, looking each other in the eye and eating together as a pleasure and an investment in relationship. So that is what Portia does. She may get a little wild or spill her drink, but in general she behaves very nicely at our table. She doesn't know any better.
So now it is Baby Libby at the table in the baby chair. It can feel like a full on circus trying to get everybody what they need before someone dies of starvation. I think at least every day my husband or I are chanting, "Please wait Portia, Mama/Daddy will be here in a minute and then we get to pray." She does her best, but even I often grab a crunch or a sip before we are all completely settled in for a meal. While we eat, we have learned to direct our conversation to the girls to avoid them acting up for attention. Even if the words are only for adults, some eye contact goes a long way to help the kids feel included in the conversation.
At breakfast, however, I ignore my children. Mostly. I read the paper and feed myself with my right hand, feed the baby with my left, and sip coffee with whatever is available. Libby will not be ignored at a meal and that girl has her folk's appetite. I do not want to hear constant murmuring so I need to keep shoveling in the grub fast. I read the paper though. I always feel it is a little rude. I don't do it when John is at the table, just me and the girls. Last night when I was doing devotions and considering how much negative news there is in the paper, an idea came to me. What if I did devotions with my girls instead of wasting prime family time reading a newspaper I only skim anyway? I know they are little, but some positive focus to our morning would keep me in line even if it was lost on them.
Here is where the God Nod comes in. I ignored the great idea of devotions this morning. I cracked open the newspaper and for the most part ignored the girls. I ignored them until Portia said "I want to do that." We often discuss cartoons or pictures in the newspaper that she notices, so I was trying to see what caught her eye. "What Portia?" I said.
"I want to do that while I eat." she said sweetly, gesturing to the newspaper spread out on the table. She wanted to read the paper while eating breakfast. Oh. No.
I'm pretty sure God was chuckling as I realized just how important what we model to our children is. And maybe you are not a Jesus girl, so make it a current event, or people in your lives you could help or encourage or just a conversation about where the day should take you, but meals matter! Have meaningful conversation with your little ones(heck have it with your big ones too). Actively engaging with all the folks around your table, actually sitting around your table, has been proven to help in many ways. Regular meals together as a family can improve diet, blood pressure, grades in school and minimize negative social influences on your kids. Model strong family interaction during meals so your family doesn't know any better: meals matter!