So many clients and friends claim to want to do what’s best for their children, but fail to realize that often the children just want that sense of a “normal family” occasionally. Can you do it? Can you sit down at the dinner table or out at a restaurant with your ex for a family dinner and give that to your kids?
When I divorced, my kids were so young that I was able to convince my ex that as long as he wouldn’t make the kids go back and forth between homes, he could come to my home, the house we last lived in together before the final separation and continue with “family time” as the kids knew it 3x/week. He agreed!!
After continuing family dinners frequently, almost weekly, here is what I believe are the pros and cons.
1. Who Is Cooking Family Dinner?
PRO – I know my kids get a much better meal when I’m cooking.
CON – I have to do all of the cooking.
This is one of those crazy “mom does it better” issues that most of us mama bears can’t let go. Most Xs are smart enough to let us do it unless there is a new-mama wanna-be in the picture.
In our specific arrangement, the kids have “dinner visits” with dad on Monday and Wednesday nights. I use this term loosely as there has been more than one occasion when the children return home at 7:30 – having last eaten at 11:30 lunch time – to tell me that they didn’t actually have dinner. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!! No, no my friends, I’m not.
PRO WINS! So long as the parent who cooked for the children regularly, or the parent who didn’t cook is willing to try once in a while, the kids will enjoy a sit-down dinner with everyone together more often than having to leave the home where they are staying for 2-3 hours and then come home. Besides, you can usually have left overs or make left overs for the next night.
2. What Does Family Dinner Look Like Over There?
PRO – You have a chance to experience what dinner may look like in your ex's home.
CON – Dinner with your ex in his home may be alarmingly different and hurt your heart.
I can only speak from personal experience, but dinner at X’s is insane. T.V’s on, no one really sits down to eat, kids act like it’s a short-order restaurant often asking for 5 different things instead of what is served. I was so mad the first time I saw this – too busy biting my tongue to eat.
Then, I began to feel so bad for X and the kids. He didn’t know how to do family dinner – especially now that kids aren’t contained in high chairs. Trying to help X instead of constantly criticizing really helped. I’ve helped him work out the go-to meals that the kids will always eat so there isn’t a fight. I’ve helped him appreciate how eliminating distractions can really help them stay focused on eating and interacting with him. I’ve tried to show how much better eating at the same time that they are used to eating helps. Sometimes I even make an extra-large dinner so they can have left overs on his night with him if we are not having family dinner.
PRO WINS!! Remember, the point is to do what is best for the kids.
3. Breaking Bread Instead of Heads Is a Good Idea.
PRO: I know there’s going to be time for a sit down to discuss co-parenting matters
CON: What was the point of getting divorced if I still have to see him this much?!
My ex and I do this so often with the kids that it’s not uncommon when we decide to go out to eat that they ask if dad can come. We are able to talk about school, trading schedules, any issues or accolades the children have going on, and let our kids have “family time.” Even issues that are not pleasant between us somehow don’t get heated if we are at a dinner table with a glass of wine.
We do have those awkward moments when people assume we’re still happily married. I am sometimes even criticized for allegedly giving the kids some false hope of our getting back together. No, I say, we’ve just successfully restructured our family. Sometimes I really have to step back and remember and appreciate that the legal document that we call the divorce decree means NOTHING to our children.
We are still mom and dad and their family.
At the end of the day, I am very proud that we can do this for our kids and really invite you to find a way once in a while to make it happen… for them.