Monday, April 1, 2013

I've Got the Family-Dinner Blues (A Mom's Perspective on Sibling Issues)

It's 5:56 pm.  The kids are hungry, and I am sweating.  I'm running around like crazy, making dinner, setting the table, feeding the pets, keeping the kids from getting into trouble, and pouring the correct type of milk into each child's preferred cup and pairing it with each child's preferred type of straw. Exhausting.

By 6:04 Dad has walked in the door from work, the oven-timer has beeped, and it is finally time to sit down for dinner.  This should be the moment where my hard work, large effort and flop sweat pay off.  This should be the moment that I look around the dining room table at the family I love and rejoice in sharing a meal as we go over the highs and lows of our day.  

Should be.

In my house, this is the moment where things usually go down-hill.  It starts with trying to get Nate to the table.  He doesn't want to come.  He wants to continue doing whatever it was he was doing the minute before I said "Dinner's ready!" It continues it's downward spiral with Nate's insistence that he's too sick to eat, that the food is "yuck", and that he's "all done" (his language is limited, but not his ability to make excuses not to eat).  Once forced into his chair, Nate climbs in and out no less than a hundred times, drops his fork, feeds a few bites to the dog who is smart enough to always station himself by Nate's feet, spills his milk, occasionally throws food at my head, and insists he has to go to the bathroom.  

It is usually at about this time when Nate's older brother interrupts the festivities to ask "May I be excused?", and just like that the family dinner is over.  

Oh, did I not mention that Nate has an older brother (Isaac, 12) who is subjected to these nightly family dinners?  Did I forget to say that while Hurricane Nate is taking place to my left, my other son is scarfing down his dinner in the chair to my right?   I'm not surprised I forgot.  I occasionally notice that my entire body is pointing towards Nate while we sit at the table as I attempt to anticipate the next catastrophe.  I have to intentionally remind myself to turn my body around and direct my eyes at Isaac. My mom-guilt meter is through the roof because with all the chaos of "dinner with Nate", it is sometimes hard to remember that Isaac is sitting there, also wanting/needing/deserving my attention. 

I'm not proud of this.  As I write it, my heart breaks a little bit.  Isaac deserves peaceful family time and his mother's full attention during dinner.  He deserves the opportunity to share the ups and downs of his day, and to take part in a genuine, age-appropriate conversation.  But Isaac is the sibling of a child with a disability, and so his needs sometimes get overlooked.  

Isaac's life with Nate is not all bad, and I would even go so far as to say that it's mostly good.  My boys love each other in a way that makes my heart sing.  They snuggle, they treat each other with kindness, they laugh hysterically together, and gang up against their parents in the way that brothers have been doing for ages. Isaac has learned such patience, acceptance, open-mindedness and generosity because he has Nate for a brother.  He has learned to be comfortable around a wider variety of people. He believes in inclusion. He knows to define people by their personhood, and not by their disability. He makes me proud every day, and I know his experiences as Nate's brother will help to shape him into a man of integrity and goodness.

Knowing Isaac will be better because of it doesn't erase the frustration and sadness I feel about our challenging family dinners. Similarly, suffering through impossible meals does not erase my understanding that a family dinner is important for both my boys for a thousand different reasons.  Therefore, I will keep making dinner, sweating and rushed though I may be, so that our family can sit together each evening.  I can guarantee you it won't be quiet, peaceful or involve in-depth conversation, but it will involve the people I love most in the world so how bad can it be?

We'd love to hear what family dinner is like in your home. Please share your stories of siblings, dining and family together-time!  Thank you!


  1. I did not grow up having meals around a table with the family. It was "Mom-makes-mac&cheese-and-you-take-your-bowl-to-your-room" dinners. As I embark on family-life, I intend to have them around the table, challenging as they can be with children and crazy schedules.

    Your writing makes my heart sing. Keep sharing!

  2. There are so many things that mothers and fathers can feel guilty about, but making family dinner is not one of them, even if it is chaotic. The time to come together and "break bread" is a way of signaling an ending of the day and welcoming everyone back to the home. Your challenges with Nate will evolve. Isaac will find a way to be involved. Brian will add to the conversation...and yes, for all the sweat and work you put into preparing the meal, dinner will be over in 5 minutes. No matter. It is still an important anchor for the family. And you are so special to keep putting it all together.