Help! I Married into a Family That Doesn’t Do Family Dinner

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Chris Perez)

In my family there were a few hard-and-fast traditions. We watched “Die Hard” every Christmas — and thus I was the only kid in the third grade who had a swear-word vocabulary as large as John McClane’s. But despite what my off-color precocity might imply, we also clung hard to one traditional, family-friendly essential. Namely, we always ate dinner at the table, together as a family. (The exceptions were pizza night and when “Star Trek” was on — because, you know, priorities).

Fast forward 20 years and I have my own family. I’m lucky to be married to an amazing man with equally amazing children. But I can’t help feeling frustrated that they don’t share the same table tradition.

Now obviously, different families have different traditions. But it never occurred to me that something so integral to my own family’s bonding would be missing from the lives of other folks — especially not ones I would be in charge of helping to raise and nurture.

In my family, the table was a magical place where the day’s woes and wins were discussed and celebrated. We learned all about complex surgeries and their gory details from my mother, the medical transcriptionist; and the ins and outs of computers and government work from my father, while the kids dished about school.

Oh, and the food! I am lucky to have great cooks for parents. My father, a nationally ranked BBQ champion, and my mother, a self-taught cook who will throw down with anyone who says they make better pizza, were great teachers. They both instilled in me the love and passion for food and its preparation. Dinner wasn’t just about eating; it was an opportunity to learn about the ingredients used in our food and how they got to the table.

Now, as a stepmom helping to raise a young family, I find it’s hard to get anyone to like the same food, let alone sit down to eat it — unless the TV is on. And it’s not that I haven’t tried! For the last 10 months, I’ve attempted to incorporate some of the ideas I know helped enrich my own life and grow my respect for other family members.

Although no one is averse to sitting down to eat together, the table is merely a place to hover momentarily until food is consumed or picked at until excused. Conversation starters and queries don’t seem to help; in fact, they feel forced. Sometimes it seems like like everyone watching the same TV show (please, oh please don’t let it be “Barbie Ice Princess” one more time!) brings more joy and togetherness than sitting around a table.

Any thoughts on how to gently coax my new family into new ways? Or is this one battle not worth fighting, since we have so much fun in other ways?