I love my family, and I love eating food, but put them together and it’s not so pleasant. It’s taken me years to admit that Family Dinner makes me mental…like muttering to myself like a crazy person, mental. And while I’m confessing… Family Game Night? Not really a super-happy-fun time for this crew. There’s typically a sibling throw-down, a complete walk out, or, at the very least, crying. Sure, we look like the world’s most adorable family in photos, but who thinks of picking up the camera when things go bad? I’m too busy trying really hard not to laugh or cry at how ridiculous the entire situation is.

So, are we doing something wrong here? Nope. We just aren’t paid actors in a Coke commercial. Just once I’d like to see an honest ad where Susie opens a can of Coke and it explodes on her brother Johnny, who retaliates quickly by grabbing the can from her and hurling it at her head, all set to the worn out parents ironically singing Pharrell’s “Happy.” Have a Coke and a smile, people! But, Coke has no intention of getting real about families, so allow me to do the honors on the reality of Family Game Night and Family Dinner.

Family Game Night
This sounds like a great idea unless you’ve ever played games as a family. Then you know it’s a blood bath waiting to happen. Remember Monopoly? Ah, the original sibling hating maker. And let’s not forget Risk…the enchanting game of world domination. I’ve flipped enough Monopoly and Risk boards to steer clear of those with my kids. But for reasons I can’t explain, we foolishly play the game Sorry, which is basically the prototype for the Hunger Games set on a board. The entire premise is to make someone cry. I’m pretty sure that’s what the instructions list as the object of the game. It teaches some lovely skills of advancing yourself by using every opportunity to destroy the soul of your opponents. And, as an added bonus, you get to painfully watch your younger children completely suck at counting spaces and realize there is a good chance they will be living in your basement for a long, long time.

And don’t kid yourself. It doesn’t really matter what game you play. Uno seems sort of benign, right? Wrong. I have a permanent tick in my right eye from everyone angrily yelling GO at each other because no one can keep track of their goddamn turn. If you’re winning? Forget it. Everyone will gang up to crush your spirit. And can someone tell me why there are so many spaces between the rooms in Clue? Is this necessary? No matter what happens in the endlessly long game, the winner is inevitably accused of cheating. Every. Single. Time.My main goal during family game night is to throw the games so each kid gets a chance to win, but sometimes I accidentally win, making them all cry. I’ve never understood parents who don’t let their kids win. Don’t they know they are like 30 years older and the entire match up is unfair to begin with? All I want is peace and for the game to end before I’m old enough to sprout hairs out of my moles. I will literally do anything for the game to end. As I pack up the evil pieces, eye still twitching, I somehow keep it together and say, “That was fun,” and wonder if anyone believes me.

The Fantasy of Family Dinner
There is something dangerously seductive about the idea of Family Dinner, until you have a few. The fantasy for me goes something like this: I mash potatoes. Lily bakes biscuits. Grace snaps peas. Dan slices veggies. George precariously fills the glasses with milk, spilling just enough to make us giggle at how adorable he is. We play Bach in the background because we’ve heard that classical music will increase their SAT scores. We set the table with a familiar choreographed dance. During dinner, we civilly take turns as we share the highs and lows of our days. Then we blast Heard it Through the Grapevine as we dance around the kitchen, Big Chill style, clearing the table, loading the dishwasher and wrapping the left overs with hip bumps, spins, and high-fives.Ummm. Yah. Not so much.

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The Reality of Family Dinner
The reality is something very, very different. Just thinking of something for dinner gives me hives. We are sick of everything. And, why, why do we have to keep feeding them? When the kids help it’s instantly an argument about who gets to break the egg, followed by a harsh condemnation of my parenting. Suddenly I’m on trial about which child I love the most. I am tempted to make them compete in inane games to prove their love to me. Perhaps a game of Sorry to settle it once and for all? Instead, I open wine, stay quiet, and congratulate myself on my stellar parenting. And, by the way, there is no Bach playing. Instead we have the Frozen soundtrack on repeat. I can’t even tell you how much I don’t want to build a snowman, with anyone, ever. Go away, Anna. Seriously. It’s enough already.

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It’s during the setting of the table that I’m treated to an assessment of how unfair everyone’s particular jobs are and who isn’t pulling their weight. George is totally not pulling his weight, so I idiotically put him in charge of beverages, and watch helplessly as he spills milk everywhere. Now I’m on my hands and knees cleaning up milk and would argue that crying over spilt milk is not only useful, but very necessary.I’m always amazed, and maybe even a little impressed, by the things they can find to fight about. Who is going to sit where can quickly become a Lord of the Flies situation. Sometimes it’s fun to stay out of it and take bets on who will win. My money is on Lily every time. Trust me.During the actual dinner, I get to hear about everyone’s day, again, for Dan’s benefit. It’s fine because my job isn’t to listen. No. It’s to moderate who is talking so they aren’t interrupted. I have to point at each of them when it’s their turn. I’m the conductor of the goddamn family dinner. I need a baton. Dan would help, but he’s too busy monitoring what George eats, which is basically nothing. My husband’s singular focus at Family Dinner is what our eight-year old eats. I honestly don’t care what he eats and even if I did, I’m literally too busy telling Grace to sit up straight because at her rate of slumping she’s going to have a hump by the time she’s 25, maybe sooner. Finally, Dan and I align our forces to yell at Lily for having spent the total sum of the dinner prepping her food, like one of the food shows she watches, instead of eating it. There’s zero listening, plenty of nagging and well-timed grunts and eye-rolls instead of actual words.The adorable clean-up? Forget it. I just want them to go away.

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The Reality of Family Time
So why do we do all this family time? I’d like to say some nonsense like we believe in the glory of family, but the truth is I think we read an article that said it keeps your kids off drugs. I swear if they do drugs, I’m going to be so pissed. Seriously though, family time is not meant to be perfect, it’s meant to be real, and we are nailing real here. I speak fluent eye-rolling and have a viable second career as a boxing referee. “She kicked you because you bit her? Fair fight. Carry on.” Despite Coke’s obsession with the perfect family, I get that the times we sucked completely will be our fondest memories. I honestly can’t wait to sit around a table with my grown children and reminisce about our seriously mental family dinners. Maybe I’ll break out Sorry! for old time sakes and see who cries first.

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17 Comments

  1. Hysterical!
    We play “Go Fish” – and have had melt downs because one I got both pairs of sharks (and Brandt has decided that the sharks should always be his). Ugh!
    I have read several articles that have said that eating a family dinner together every night is the biggest indicator of having a successful kid. Dammit, we will eat EVERY POSSIBLE meal together then! I am not having my kids live in my basement into their 30’s! Oh HELL no!
    Although, right now, they mostly hear rap, classic rock, rap, 80’s, 90’s, country….Jeeeesh! We had better switch that Pandora station to Bach ASAP! Like I said, HELL no on the basement dwellers!!
    Isn’t parenting a joy??

    Loved this one Meredith!

  2. AMEN!!! I HATE game night so much that I gave all the games away when you moved 2 year ago (including the wii games). And, you know that I never intentionally left them win (I know, add it to the therapy bill). I tried to reinstate family dinner night, since it is my son’s last year at home. I gave up within two weeks of the new school year when at least one person complained that they did not like what I made that night for dinner. Now, it’s eat what you want, when you want it. (Okay, I still try to cook a couple nights a week and eat with at least one child.) Besides, Gus (the dog) is my favorite: he’s cute, always eats dinner without complaining, doesn’t talk back, and eats game pieces! I think I’ll go have a Dr. Pepper…Cheers!

  3. Loved the hunger games comparison to Sorry…. Yes every single time…. Does anyone really have to win?? Perhaps we shoujd be happy that our kids can count.

  4. I hate family game night also. In fact, Amy and I refuse to play Monopoly with Craig and Alyssa because they make up their own rules and conspire together. It’s horrible. Craig says there is no rule stating they can’t! Yes, the lawyer is being the lawyer.
    As for family dinners….isn’t that just kind of a holiday event?!! The kids always had so many activities around dinner time that they were lucky to have a sandwich in the car on the way to somewhere! Craig is never home in a reasonable timeframe either. Even now as an empty nester, we often don’t even have couple time dinners. I don’t always feel like waiting until 8:30 to eat…

  5. You nailed it again Mblazoned.
    All that said, I kind of do enjoy both institutions. I have just learned to take them in with a rum & coke in my hand (with lots of ice).

  6. I find making sure they all have some evening practice to attend keeps the family dinner thing down to a dull roar.

  7. definitly agree about game night. My 10 year old ask almost every week but I just avoid it and say “We will see” and then plan an activity that does not involve a board of any kind!!!
    Love your blog!! Make me feel more normal lol

  8. I was having a bad day and you made me laugh out loud and completely turned my mood around. Thank you. Never stop writing! Other moms need you!

    1. I have terrible days too. Glad I could make you laugh. I shall keep writing. Have a few ready to go after Spring Break ends. I’m currently overloading on “family time.” Thanks for the nice words!

  9. I just called both kids AND my husband in here and made them listen to me read this one out loud, AND the summer letter to the kids. The younger one harrumphed especially at the “and the little one” comment in your summer letter to the kids, thinking I had written the letter. HAHAHA! LOVE YOUR WRITING!!!

  10. Hi M.

    First of all, thank you. Thank you for expressing in clever and hilarious prose many of the thoughts in my head…I have three kids as well and can relate to EVERYTHING you write. I came across your ‘summer letter to kids’ piece on FB this week and it made me laugh out loud. In fact, when i was rereading it to my husband, i couldn’t even get thru the part about the goggles without crying (joy) because that is my 7 year old son. Under the pillow is a great idea. Maybe his pillow. And then you mentioned that ABC after school special- honestly, I thought i was the only one who ever saw that. Collective memory makes you feel a little less lonely in the world. I remember that episode so vividly – and it scared me until i discovered the Grateful Dead in my early twenties…..

    Family Dinner and Game night. Yes. It may keep them away from drugs but we may need some to get through it!
    Setting. Clearing. Sorry. Uno. Are you in my head? My BIGGEST pet peeve is when people are slow to take their turn. I’m glad i’m not the only one. Three kids- what were we thinking?

    Thanks again for your great writing. I look forward to reading more – laughing about it certainly helps when i remember too.

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