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Making Family Mealtime Work for You

Creating this ritual in an age of overbooked kids is no mean feat. Here's how one mom does it.

By Helen Schulman
Pot on a stoveCoral Von Zumwalt

I often daydream about an ideal dinner. In these admittedly rather mundane flights of fancy, I have a gleaming, serene kitchen (with new appliances!), and I cook lovely, nutritious meals for my family. Stuff like swordfish and pasta in a fragrant tomato-fennel sauce. We would start with Caesar salad, the kind I used to make when it was just my husband and I. I would toast croutons and shower the romaine leaves with a lemony vinaigrette. There would be sautéed broccoli on the side and for dessert a fresh fruit tart (made by me, of course). My husband and I, along with our children, would sit down together to eat, drink, and talk. 

 

I love to cook, and I love my family…so why is it so hard for me to make this seemingly ordinary event, homemade tart or no, a reality?

 

My own mother worked, she had three kids, she took care of her aging mother, and we all sat down to a healthy dinner that she cooked herself, seven nights a week. Most of the moms that I knew back then, whether they worked or stayed at home, were responsible for all the nightly meals. Now I think: How did Mom do it? When I came home in the evening, something always smelled delicious. Of course, it helped that my mother was home at the dinner hour. She was a social worker, had a conventional work schedule, and was usually back by six. (She was also great at making soups and stews that reheated beautifully.)

 

I work days and some evenings. Even the nights I’m home are chaotic, as everyone has a different schedule, homework, and after-school activities. Back in the 70s, when I was a kid, we ferried ourselves around to dance classes and music lessons by bus and subway, and my mom didn’t have to deal with all our extracurriculars. My own workday, because I’m always on some deadline or other, feels as if it’s never over. Don’t get me wrong―I love my work (I write and teach); I just don’t like my schedule. My husband’s timetable is just as nuts. He almost never eats with the kids, although he tries to get home most nights in time to read to them before they go to sleep.
 

 

 
Read More About:Kids & Parenting

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