Sitting on the Tae Kwon Do studio bench watching the boys do drills had become my new normal. I either brought my laptop to complete work or spent the hour conversing in hushed tones with other parents. Yes, nightly practice was smack-dab in the middle of what we used to call supper time. We had chosen to sacrifice our regular connection around the table when our boys had been invited by some neighbors to come to “bring a friend night” over a year earlier. They came home from that experience effusively begging us to join. We conceded, and before long we were spending evenings carpooling at 6:00 pm.
Our new routine meant rearranging our rhythm. Because Tae Kwon Do requires a lot of strenuous activity, I would only give the boys a snack before leaving. They returned home energetic and ravenous at around 8:00 pm. Both supper and bedtime were thrown off. To say my boys loved Tae Kwon Do would be an understatement.
Having extracurriculars at supper time was unheard of in my childhood. Sports, theater, dance, and music lessons all happened mid-afternoon. In the small town where I grew up, every evening one of the moms in the neighborhood would shout out their kitchen window “Supper!” and all of the kids would disperse to their respective homes.
When everyone does the same thing at the same time, it makes it easy to go with the flow. Eating an evening meal gathered around the table every night was normal. We didn’t have to work to make it happen. I had assumed this flow would continue as I became a mom.
Over the years, America has left the table. My family, unfortunately, followed suit. Like many of our friends, we have gravitated towards ball fields, dance studios, or other outside involvements. Events for our children often start at 5:30 or 6:00 many nights each week. We allowed the habit of breaking bread together to become less frequent. By necessity, drive through often replaced sit down.
One Sunday in the middle of our Tae Kwon Do season, our pastor took an unexpected detour in his sermon. He shared how he and his wife regret not having made family supper more consistent when their boys were younger. One point rang in my heart as we walked out of church. Gathering around the table is a blessing. We won’t get to do this forever. We need to intentionally make the time and do what it takes to prioritize having meals together.
As we left church, I turned to my husband and said, “We’ve got to talk.” That evening I approached him, sharing how I had been missing our time around the table as a family. He agreed. I said, “I think we have to pull the boys out of Tae Kwon Do.” We talked about how much our boys loved it, how good it was for both their physical well-being and character development. In the end, we decided our time together around the table mattered more.
We announced our decision to the boys the coming week. We got the expected resistance and even some tears. We explained how important the time we get to spend together as a family is to us. It meant making hard choices for the sake of our connection as a family. They weren’t thrilled, but they went along.
When we first quit Tae Kwon Do, I was diligent about cooking nightly, setting an alarm on my phone for 4:20 pm to signal, “time to cook.” Shortly after my husband came in the door, we would gather around the table. We shared about our days, each of us telling our “high” and “low” points. We laughed together and even cleared plates to play a board game after the meal a couple of times a week.
I don’t know about you, but real life with real people rarely goes according to plan. It has taken me decades to slowly release my ideals and learn to savor the wonky, imperfect, yet beautiful gifts of each day. I’m a work in progress. Over time, we’ve had to flex the ideal image I held regarding family supper. Life happens.
This past summer, my youngest got a lead role in a play. Practice was every Monday through Thursday 6:00 – 8:00p. Yep. We were back to losing our supper time. We modified things a bit (experience sometimes yields wisdom). We knew this was a six-week stint, not an indefinite involvement. On play practice nights, I would leave something for my husband and older son to eat while I took my son to practice. Then we would all grab something together around the island when we got home. I’m learning that the form isn’t as important as the function. Our goal is connecting together at the end of our day. A wonderful way to do that is to share a meal. How this looks in each season of family life may have to bend a bit.
Lately, I am prioritizing the need we have for gathering together without having to recreate the ideal. We intentionally carve out mealtime. We guard it the best we can. Sometimes dinner together may look like pizza and a movie. Other times it means coming together at 8:30 pm after we all come home from outside involvements. We might take a Sunday evening picnic.
The point is to share time focusing on connecting with one another. The physical table itself is the least important part of the equation.
When I was spending countless nights at the Tae Kwon Do studio, I could not have foreseen all the ways our family would change and grow over time. Our routines have had to adapt to each season of family life. The way we gather may change, but the impact on us does not. Even now, as I look back over our lives, I’m so grateful for the memories of meals we have shared together. We are more closely knit as a family because we gathered at the table consistently.
This story was originally published on KindredMom.com where I was blessed to be a Writer in Residence for fall 2018.