Family Time

Tobyjoe and I are a year into our new job as parents and we’re still working on a schedule. I am told that this is one of the more difficult tasks to manage once the baby arrives. And in our case that’s true. I wrote about this before—juggling work and life, workouts and alone time. We don’t yet have it figured out, but things are admittedly better. (Although, I think Tobyjoe works too hard [us included] and never gets any alone time except for on the NYC subway and that’s a downright shame.)

Anyway, it’s been tough and it’s always changing.

One of the things I am most curious about is how others deal with meals, and more specifically dinner. I have an idea (based on zero scientific evidence or research whatsoever) that sitting down together as a family will keep our son from becoming a monster whenever he enters his teenage years. I know. This is absurd. Every teenager is a monster at some point. But I think we can turn the monster level down a notch if we try and eat at least one meal together. Plus, I feel that having a daily conversation—even if it’s forced—is important.

Here’s the deal though. It just doesn’t seem possible unless we’re willing to feed Em dinner after 8 PM. Due to work, commute, and then dinner preparation (plus, my gym time begins the moment Tobyjoe gets home from work), dinner usually doesn’t start for us until after 8 PM.

Here’s a snapshot of my daily schedule:

7:00 AM: Em wakes up.

7:30 AM: Feed Em breakfast. Drink coffee. Clean up, organize.

9:00 AM: TJ leaves. Walk him to subway.

10:00 AM: Get home put Em down for a nap.

12:00 – 12:30 PM: Lunch

2:30 PM: Nap (if I’m lucky. Usually doesn’t sleep until after 3.)

4:00 PM: Walk to park. Swing.

5:30 or 6:00 PM: Em eats dinner.

7:00 PM: Head to gym.

8:00 PM-8:30 PM: Start our dinner

8:30 PM-9:00 PM: Em goes to bed.

I guess my questions are: what time do you eat? Do you eat together as a family? If so, does it mean keeping your little one up later at night? How do you make it work if you make it work at all?


  1. It seems like you’re all home in the morning, maybe you could do breakfast together? I don’t have kids but breakfast was always more commonly eaten as a family in my house than dinner. Not every single day (especially as we got older), but most days. And for what it’s worth, my parents weren’t really anal about us all being home for dinner (my brothers’ sporting schedules and my after school activities were too nuts to make that possible) but those of us who WERE home for dinner ate together, and at the table. A lot of my friends’ families ate in the living room or had a tv in the kitchen. That wasn’t ever allowed, if you were eating dinner with someone (anyone in the family) you had to actually engage them and talk. I guess my parents figured quality over quantity when the schedules just don’t allow for frequent family dinners!


  2. I’m thinking you might be onto something about the breakfast thing. It’s funny, because I get SO MUCH DONE whenever TJ feed Em in the morning, I’ve been worried about giving that up (and letting the house go to shit. hahahhah!) But sitting down together is really important, so I would rather do that and give up cleaning the house or doing laundry than the other way around.

    Also, TV in the KITCHEN?! holy moly. Yeah, I am hoping that doesn’t happen here. And, like you said, I do hope Em eventually wants to do things after school, like play soccer! ;]


  3. During the school year, evening meals together are once-in-a-blue-moon with 4 non-driving teenagers and 4 different activity schedules.

    The breakfast thing is a great idea. As a mother of 4 teenagers, sometimes the only time we eat together is on the weekends. Sunday breakfast is the big special treat for us as hubby makes homemade biscuits with breakfast. We lay it all out with bacon, sausage, eggs, fruit, pancakes (or waffles), yogurt, cottage cheese…like a fancy buffet. The kids always look forward to it – lots of catching up, picking around the table, and discussion about social life. And, occasionaly, the adults will have mimosas. If feels very decadent and is the highlight of the weekend (at least for the adults). Nothing like having your peeps all together connecting with each other.


  4. maybe go to the gym in the morning before emory wakes up, like from 6am to 7am, which not only makes you feel really good, energized, and accomplished before the day even starts, but also allows you all three to eat together right when tobyjoe gets home around 7pm. you could give emory a little snack at 5:30 or 6:00 to get him to the 7pm meal. then you all have a “free” hour or so together afterward to carry on the dinner-together feeling. just a thought. i love going to the gym in the morning.


  5. It’s tough for our family as well, but on the nights my husband is going to the gym (which interfered when we would normally feed the kids) we still try to sit with him at the table while he eats. I fix his plate when we eat dinner and then when he gets home (it varies on gym nights) then he heats it up and we meet back at the table and the munchkins color while he and I talk.

    Jeez—that sounds boring.

    And I think it does help…my teenager isnt surly yet. He even helps get the smaller ones to the table for dinner.


  6. I have no good advice about the schedule (especially since you didn’t say when TJ gets home…), but I do want to say that your instinct about family dinners is right on. There is plenty of research that shows that kids who eat dinner with their parents (at a table with the TV off) do better in school, do better on standardized tests, are happier, healthier, and are less monster-like than kids who don’t experience family dinners. That’s not to say that having family dinners prevents all monster-like behavior, but it is less likely.

    The important factor with the family dinner, though, isn’t the eating—it is the talking/communicating. The same effect could be gained by doing other regular activities together that facilitate communication and learning.


  7. Thanks, Cyn. For the information. TJ’s arrival varies but it usually happens at around 7. Sometimes it’s as late as 8 PM, however.

    You know, I don’t know HOW my father did it, but I remember having dinner with my family almost every night growing up. Until we were in high school and had after school stuff. (And we played soccer too.) ANyway, somehow it worked and I remember those times very fondly. We sat and talked and ate and then whenever everyone was done, we were excused.

    I kind of want that for Em. The memories I have are great. Really great.

    But it may not be possible for us for a long, long while. :[


  8. I agree, breakfast may work better for you for now. Who knows, maybe when you move you may shorten TJ’s commute and be able to eventually have dinner together.


  9. I think we can make it work with breakfast.

    Totally unrelated to us but I thought I’d share anyway.

    My cousin told me recently that her son once asked her “When is daddy coming over?”

    She said, “Where do you think daddy lives?”

    He said, “At work.”

    Her husband had a new job within a few months. heh


  10. When I was a kid we always had a snack when we got home from school with my mom. It was usually 2 cookies and milk. Then we ate dinner about 6:30 or 7 with my dad, a little on the late side, but it worked. Then it was off to bed not too long after that. Now I feed my son a snack after his afternoon nap (he’s 2 weeks away from his first birthday) and then feed him dinner at 6:30 or even closer to 7 or later on some nights. If my husband is home we either snack with our son or eat dinner with him too. If my husband is not home I sometimes cook our dinner, keep it warm and snack with our son while he eats dinner. So our son feels like he is getting the social part of eating dinner as a family on most days, and yet, my husband and I can have a quiet dinner some days. It really varies according to what is going on. My goal is that once our son gets bigger we will all eat dinner together, whether it’s 7:00, 7:30 or 8:00. Some people advocate a snack for kids before bed, but why not flip it and do a lighter snack earlier and then a later dinner? It all ends up being about the same number of meals, just called different things. The kids probably end up eating the same amount of food too. And, I think that really contributed to my fondness of eating later and having our meal be our nightly event. In my extended family evening meals are a big deal, occuring late and lasting a long time. I want my son to grow up with that as well.

    Our typical schedule is—
    7:30 or 8:00 Sam wakes up
    8:30 or 8:30 Sam eats breakfast and we leave for work (My mom watches Sam at our house)
    10:00 Sam takes a nap
    12:00 or 12:30 Lunch
    2:00 or 3:00 Nap
    4:00 or 5:00 Snack
    Anywhere between 6:15 and 7:00 Dinner
    8:30 or 9:00 Bedtime for Sam


  11. Wow, Erika! At first glance it sounds like our schedules are very similar. Perhaps I’ll give Em a snack at the usual dinner time and dinner later as you suggested. I can’t see why it would cause problems, right?


  12. Interesting topic. I’ve thought about this as well, since we’re in a similar situation. My husband gets home on average, around 7, but it is often later, and from day to day I never know when he’ll be home. Right now we eat after my daughter goes to bed at 8:00, but I would like to have family dinners together at some point, since both my husband and I did that with our families growing up. I don’t know how people do it now since it seems like people work much longer hours. Maybe my husband could come home a little earlier, and then work again from home after the kids are in bed? We haven’t seriously discussed how we’ll make this work, since my daughter is only 8 months old right now, but at some point we need to figure out a workable solution. Breakfast is an idea, but my husband leaves at 7:00am or so, and often my daughter’s not up yet. I’ll be interested to see if anyone else has any ideas on how to make this work!


  13. Maybe we need to shift America’s work hours to be more like Spain’s (or how I THINK Spain’s hours are. heh) Don’t they come home for like three hours during the late afternoon? And then head back to work again later? Or did I make that up?

    Maybe my husband could come home a little earlier, and then work again from home after the kids are in bed?

    That’s a good idea if his office will allow for it. Too bad we can’t combine commutes to actual time spent at work, eh? If the price of gas keeps going up or workflows become more computerized, perhaps people can start working from home more often.

    I think we’ll probably end up keeping Em up late so we can do this. And I’ll drag my ass out of bed earlier and hit the gym in the morning.


  14. 7AM- Willa wakes up. (the husband leaves for work at 6AM)
    7:30-8AM Willa eats breakfast
    9AM Walk dog
    10AM Story time (3 days a week- other days desperately try to figure out something to do to entertain her- sometimes playground.)
    11:30-12- Lunch
    12pm Nap lasts anywhere from 45 min- 3hrs. Usually about 1 1/2 hrs
    2-5:30 Play, run errands, etc.
    5:30- 6pm Dinner
    6-7pm Quiet play time
    7pm- Husband comes home- if we are lucky.He gives Willa her bath and puts her to bed.
    She goes to bed between 7:30-8pm every night.
    We find that if we put her to sleep later, she wakes up earlier. She is SO MUCH happier when we stick to her schedule.


  15. the little girl i babysit for is almost 3. if i am taking care of her on a weeknight, i pick her up at daycare at 6 and then start dinner once we get home, with her heading to bed around 8:15 or so. but she’s just starting to get into being excited about eating at the table together. the last time i was there, after i had put our plates down and settled in, she turned to me and said “how your day?”


  16. Firstly, congratulations on making it a year! Woot woot! He’s a doll baby, a real cute little man.

    Secondly – this will be a prob for us, I think, too. I make the dinners each night (we both much prefer my cooking, and besides I like it). But I don’t get home from work til after 6. And then I nurse the baby. And then it’s close to 7 or so, and I’ve started poking around the cupboards to see what to make, and so half the week we end up eating at 9pm. Not going to work long term!

    I like the breakfast idea – – – except my husband is some kind of freak robot man and he doesn’t like a big cooked breakfast. Early in our dating years, I made one for both of us, not even thinking to ask if he wanted the whole eggs/waffles/biscuits/etc., and handed him his plate. And he was like – no thanks, I’ll just have cereal. This was a learning moment for both of us – I taught him that he’d better eat the lovingly cooked breakfast or suffer my mood for the rest of the day, and he taught me that I make sure not to assume he wants to have what I’m having.


  17. We all eat dinner together when Andy gets home from work, usually around 5:30-6:00PM. Can you possibly go to the gym after Emory goes to bed, or in the morning before TobyJoe goes to work? Or does the gym have a daycare in it?

    Adeline has dinner at 5:30ish, then has playtime, usually the three of us going for a walk or to the park for a swing, then has a bath at 7:30. After bath and naked time (very important), she has milk while we read a story together. Then we brush her teeth, rock her quietly for a few minutes, then put her in her crib by 8:30. She babbles and falls asleep after about 15 minutes.

    We rarely have to rock her to sleep anymore. That only happens now if she’s sick.


  18. I think it is super hard to coordinate meals with work and the kid’s schedule. Annie usually eats on her own early, 5/5:30 or so. Often one of us will eat with her, but it is pretty rare that we’re all three eating together. I think when kids are older, eating together is a good way to connect and talk about the day, but no one will suffer horrible harm if you don’t eat together every night. At least that’s what I’m counting on!


  19. Is there anyway TJ can go to work earlier and (in a perfect world) come home earlier? Does your gym have a daycare? A meal together is so great – no matter what time of day. If it’s breakfast, so be it!


  20. If it were me, I would just eat a late dinner. All families work differently, your son will just grow up thinking dinner is served at 8!

    We eat as a family. I get dinner ready, so that the instant my husband gets home from work, it’s ready to be served. He calls, when leaving work, which gives me 30 minutes warning. The kids know we don’t eat, until dad gets home. He use to tell me, that the kids think he’s name is dinner.. “Hey, Dinner’s home!” Because that is all they’re thinking about at that time. We’ve been doing it this way for years and years though. I hope I’m eliminating teenage monsters. Preteens are tough enough.


  21. My husband and I both workoutside the house, but I”m the primary meal maker – because I like to do it! My husband gets the baby from daycare around 4, 4:30. They go for a run in the park (baby in stroller, natch) and the little guy gets a snack and some milk when they get home. I’m home by 6:30, we eat together around 7:00 and then we play until 8pm bathtime. Anthony is asleep by 8:30 and up at about 6:15, 6:30. It works for us. And, yes, we live for the weekends when we can hang out all day!


  22. I agree with Heather! In my family, we always ate really late dinners because my parents always wanted us to eat together. Obviously, Emory is still young, so there are other solutions in the short term but when he gets a bit older you can set dinner time whenever you want. Dinner time in my house was usually 7:30-8pm. My dad, brother and I always ate breakfast together at the table as well (Mom had to be to work too early). As we got older (and therefore, able to stay up a bit later) the dinner times moved back and back. By the time I was in junior high, I think we were regularly eating at 9-9:30pm. Of course, my mother, brother and myself all suffer from being night people, so it works for us.

    I think my husband is a bit weirded out by the eating habits I picked up from my folks, however. I am not usually hungry until around 8pm and when we do go to see my parents, now it is not uncommon for dinner to be served at 11pm. My husband and my father are both ready for bed right after the meal, whilst my mom, bro and me are up and rearing to go.

    We so need to move to Spain (the land where they nap during the day and eat dinner late at night…).


  23. Patty! Your lucky husband gets to leave work at 4:30 PM??! That’s pretty awesome. Does he work for government? School? Lucky!

    I think what we’re going to do is try and make dinners later eventually as suggested. For now, we’ll sit down with Em during breakfast and i will work my gym schedule around TJ’s work hours even if that means morning or late night after Em goes to bed.

    (I am in the best shape I’ve been in since I was 12 and playing soccer all the time. I want so badly to stick with this. I feel great physically for the first time in my life. Point is: Gym must stay. Work must stay and dinners are important to me. I can give up sleep, heh.)

    One thing I should mention is I am not the cook in this family. Or, I haven’t been. It’s not that I don’t like to, it’s that it’s always been Toby’s thing. Well, that’s going to have to change. I am going to learn how to cook so that I can start whenever TJ gets on the subway at night.

    Today’s menu: Pretzel crusted chicken breasts (as seen in this month’s food and wine) and a salad or veggies. I haven’t quite worked that part out yet. Quinoa maybe? Hmmmmm

    Thanks for writing everyone. I love learning from other mothers/families. I just met a woman today who said her son naps once at 11:30 AM and sleep until 1:30 PM and then eats lunch. So he has breakfast first thing and then a snack at 10 or 10:30. Lunch later! After a nap! WE’re trying that today.

    Wish me luck!


  24. You got allot of comments on this one, so I haven’t read any of them so I might be repeating something.

    But breakfast seems to be the one meal where you are all home together. That might have to be the meal you all sit down together for now.

    As for our family. Kevin works durning the day and I work at night, so our family doesn’t eat any meals together. It’s something I really wish we can change, but it’ll have to wait until both boys are in school so I can start working day time hours.

    What we need to do is eat at the table with the boys, either him or me, whatever time/meal it is and turn the tv off! argh, I hate that we have one in our bedroom too, but that’s a different tangent.


  25. I have no kiddies, but—I agree about breakfast as your family meal. 8 seems late for little ones, I remember having to go to bed at 9 when I was a kid. But I also remember our dinner time was never later than 6. :O

    Breakfast is tastier. :)


  26. My kids are 7 and 10 and it took a looong time for us to get to the point where we could all sit down together and eat. I’m thinking we’ve only been doing it for 2 or 3 years now. When they were little and couldn’t fend for themselves, it was impossible to eat together! We were too busy serving and cutting up their food and keeping them from flinging it across the room to get a bite in edgewise. Once they were out of their high chairs it was a constant battle just to keep them in their seats!

    I do think it’s important to work towards the goal of eating together but give it time. You’ll eventually get there. We’ve had some amazing conversations over the dinner hour lately!


  27. Yup – my husband is an NYC public school teacher. Of course, he gets the baby by 4:30 but then is up grading homework, prepping lessons and doing grad school stuff until the wee hours. Although – the summer off has indeed been a blast!

    Having my husband so close to the baby’s daycare makes a HUGE difference, too.


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