{pretty, happy, funny, real} ~ eating dinner together when the kids get older


~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~

Every Thursday, here at Like Mother, Like Daughter!

{Quick business note: There are some Father’s Day giveaways of The Little Oratory going on! Elizabeth’s, Cari’s, Sarah’s, Waltzing Matilda’s! (Did I miss any? I can update!) Fathers love The Little Oratory! Do go enter — you will get your book in time if you win, I assure you!}

{Please “like” The Little Oratory Facebook page — that is how you will find out about talks, workshops, and general goings on related to the book!}


I’m guessing that a lot of us are going to have flowers for our {pretty}! Let’s take a bet. What’s the over/under? (That’s fancy talk when you make bets; who knows what it means.)




This is a photo I call “potential flowers and also potential lawn but better than just dirt. Also “please don’t put those cut-up posts there, seriously?”






This isn’t flowers but it is the potting shed. What a life I lead! I have an actual potting shed, and it has pots in it and all!




Habou does most of the flowers around here. Finally we are getting into the time beyond “huddle in the cold dark” and onto “fight all the burgeoning growth.” The flowers fall somewhere in between, sort of “yes, we are here to make you smile. Now go weed.”

“And mow.” The mower broke down once things finally dried out (of course) and only just got fixed, now that it’s raining again. Such is life! Soon I hope this will all be neat and tidy to show you.


This is {real}:

The unmown lawn. Also, those posts are trying to remember what it’s like to be upright long enough for the ground to dry around the concrete that yes, they are set in. Please don’t leave me a comment telling me to set them in concrete. What more can I do? They could have spandrel braced cantilevered arches, I suppose.

That’s how wet it is there — when I tighten the lines the posts lean in, concrete and all! Hopefully drying will remedy this and then I can live to tighten yet again. I feel like mid-June almost is a reasonable time of year to be able to hang out laundry, don’t you?



Also, all I have here for this post are phone pictures. I realize that this isn’t a photography blog, but still. I can’t go through why it is, it just is.



I found this in the driveway. It had fallen out of a friend’s car. Do you not love that her kids got the spelling “approximately” right?



After years of sitting on benches, I finally found a table and chairs I liked for the deck. Since eating together outside makes us happy, this is a big improvement!


Speaking of eating together…

So by now I think you know I’ve been chatting with Elizabeth Foss about the book *and things dear to our hearts (and I’m sure yours as well). Among them, the challenge of having dinner together as a familynot when the children are little, as I know many of you are struggling with — but later, when life gets amazingly busy with everyone going off in so many different directions. Jobs, practices, volunteer work, pick-ups, play-dates — it is hard to imagine, if you aren’t there yet, how it will be. I hate to be that person who is all “you don’t know crazy until…” but, well…

You will long for the days when your main goal was keeping everyone on their chairs.

Elizabeth posted about this and I love what she said.

And it got me to thinking about something I want to be sure to tell those of you who are also in this phase. It isn’t that the toddlers are falling under the table and you are needing your husband to cut your meat because you are nursing the baby and only have one arm free.

No, it’s that if you try to schedule a dinner together, you feel like giving up because it seems like no one is there!

So here’s what I wanted to say. (It’s probably for a very specialized audience of the very few of you who fall into this category: Parents of large half-grown families! But hey. An audience is an audience! And maybe you others can file this away somewhere really safe.)

Remember that the foundation of your marriage is you and your husband. YOU are having dinner with your HUSBAND. If the 17-year-old has a job during the dinner hour, well, that’s the way it is. Make a plate for her for later. Sit down with your husband and eat your dinner with him, if it’s possible.

If it is possible, great. Either way, eat with the ones who are there!

Remember that you put a lot of effort in that first decade, getting everyone to behave and working on actual conversation (versus wall-to-wall correction!). It paid off, because your older children are amazing company — probably for other people, you realize wistfully, as the door slams shut and they are off to the soccer picnic or a friend’s house.

Think about the younger children you have now. Maybe they are five, eight, and ten. For them, it’s the first decade!

Oh yes, they benefit a lot from the standards set by the “bigs” as we called them. No question that you had a hiatus there, where the bigs enforced, either directly by their disapproval that anyone could act that way; or indirectly by their stellar manners, a wonderful culture at the dinner table.

But now, with the bigs off doing their own thing, don’t make the mistake of thinking it doesn’t matter what happens with the littles. I remember a conversation with a mom of thirteen (!), mostly grown. She had four children at home yet, and she allowed (jokingly of course) that “it’s hardly worth cooking”!

In one way, of course, you can’t help feeling like that! If you’ve cooked massive meals every day for years, you do find yourself a little at sea afterwards, your occupation gone, your muscle memory too great for the present task. But pull it together and remember that after all, in some families this — your littles — is all there is! It’s a kind of renewal that will pay off very well for these younger ones.

Try to see things from their point of view. Everyone wants to be Really Important in their parents’ eyes. If you only consider it a family dinner when the bigs are there, well, those littles are going to look for importance elsewhere, eventually. Don’t let that happen.

Giving them the sense that it is worth cooking for them, that you do want to give them the privilege also of being admitted to the table with you and their Dad, that you don’t consider them second class when compared to their all-engrossing (and -demanding and -attention-getting) older siblings.

Re-set your conversational trip odometer. Get ready to listen to some fabulous recaps of some fascinating chapter books or cartoons.

Begin again and discover the joy of your younger children.

Cut the bigs loose.

Of course you will never stop worrying about them, having concern for their whereabouts, enjoying their company, and in general making them the center of your attention. But the littles can be the center also. It’s their turn!



*It’s not too late to join up — the book can be read out of order, and of course she is happy for you to join at any time.

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  1. Rain says

    Great advice on letting the younger children get the attention now. With 2 older teens and 4 younger children under 12 we are learning how to do this. I’m learning the importance of holding the space for family meals and then when the older ones are home its as though they’ve never left.

    I have been loving your chats with Elizabeth.


  2. Marianne says

    Thank you!!!! I’ve had some of these thoughts, just not as clearly and coherently. Our nightly dinner table has kids ages 16, 15, 13, 11, 9, 7, 3, and 1. The teens are usually there except on weekend nights sometimes. I finish dinner an exhausted wounded warrior. It is still “wall to wall correction”, even for the teens and I will leave it at that, so as not to scandalize you.

    OK, one question: How do you get kids to stop complaining about the food? I never prepare a meal that isn’t proclaimed “disgusting” by someone. We have tried numerous punishments for the rudeness, sending from the table without dinner, 100 sentences about being appreciative, ect…but we’ve settled on stern, verbal correction and pointing out to them that they are being very rude and ungrateful. When we would send them away without dinner, they would just say, “Good, I don’t want to eat that anyway!” and happily run off. Even my 15 year old daughter acts like meat is horrible and constantly talks about how she wants to be a vegetarian, so anything with meat in it is picked at and sneered at. Once we let her try to be a vegetarian, but when something would appear that she loved (sausage pizza, or steak) she would gobble it up, so we quit taking her seriously and decided she was just being picky.

    • Rebekka says

      Set a price for the rudeness and keep a tab, take it out of their pocket money or make them do chores to pay it off, then give the money to the food bank. Add the hungry of the world to your grace before meals. Let the big ones work at a soup kitchen. Have them make dinner!

      • says

        I love this. Allowances to be paid out after dinner (or not)!

        Our kids are still little enough that the “no dessert unless you have 3 bites of everything” works. Usually one person eats well enough to get dessert. The smug face of the Eater spooning ice cream (“Mmm-mm” optional) usually gets the Laggards in gear.

    • says

      I’ve posted a lot about this, so go look up the Eating Dinner Together posts. http://www.likemotherlikedaughter.org/category/eating-dinner-together/

      But what you are talking about is rudeness. And it’s also a reaction to being corrected. You can’t have rudeness — the very first thing in your home to address is kindness and respect.
      This is my best shot at explaining it to you:

      My husband always makes a point of being very gallant to me about the food I make. He is very complimentary and grateful. Just like Ma, I am also very grateful that he provides us with the means to have such nice food!

      No one is allowed to be rude to me. You can say it’s not your favorite, but you can’t say anything you wouldn’t say to the Queen or the Pope, should they have prepared the dinner for you, which is unlikely, let’s admit it.

      Also, you need to address their response when they are corrected. It’s hard to get a correction and they need to be told what to do.

      “When I tell you that your response is rude, you say to me, ‘I’m sorry, Mom. Thank you for making dinner.’ Now say that.”
      “You just reacted to me in a rude way, when what you should have said was, ‘I apologize. May I try again?’ Say that.”

      But wait a beat — don’t get into a yelling match. Silence is the last thing they expect! Let the words hang in the air.

      You could also get up and leave. And then your husband will have to explain to them what has happened.

      Whatever it is, do not allow it to go on any more. What happens at the dinner table — what is allowed in the matter of rudeness and lack of consideration (vs. just getting mad or being heedless) — is the true test of how things really are with your family.

      Read that post.

  3. says

    I would love to be able to eat outside with my family, but we get eaten alive my mosquitoes! Please tell what you do to keep the bugs at bay? Thanks :) We can’t even roast marshmallows around a fire. It’s really pathetic and the children are sad. Help?

    • says

      Rachel, I guess it depends on where you live — sometimes the mosquitoes here are bad, and we do spray ourselves and the surrounding area. But usually it’s not too bad until sunset, when we have to go in. I try to have supper earlier when we want to eat outside.
      Make sure there are no places where there is standing water in your yard. And keep the grass mown.
      In a lot of places you can ask the department of public works to spray your street. I’m usually against sprays and things but not when it comes to mosquitoes!

      • says

        Well, shoot. I was hoping there was some magical solution I wasn’t aware of. We live in the country just down the street from a lake and we have a small duck pond. We have found that adding goldfish to our pond and horse troughs works to keep mosquitoes from breeding in them. We still have lots of bugs though. OFF works, but I was hoping to avoid sprays. I agree with you about sprays. I’d rather spray than deal with mosquitoes! Adding OFF to the grocery list…

        • says

          Aren’t there those things that you put in standing water (like ponds) that prevent the larvae from hatching? Little disk thingies?

        • Dixie says

          There’s some stuff called Cactus Juice (tagline is something like “protection against nature’s assaults”) that you can get on Amazon that works as well as OFF for me with mosquitoes and ticks, but without the DEET. It’s not 100% natural, but it’s not as scary as daily DEET use (and we have to spray ourselves at some point almost every day during the summer).

          • Adele says

            We live in Wisconsin next to the river (ie unbelievable mosquito fog). We pick when we go out and use the donuts things (I don’t know how much good they do). We don’t use commercial bug spray though. I make ours and it actually smells lovely to me. It is mint tea made absurdly strong with mint, citronella, and lavender essential oils (double the citronella). It works (for gnats and biting flies too) but you have to mist heavily. For the bites green clay powder with a bit of peppermint essential oil in it has been amazing for our littles. They love that they can see it and do it themselves, plus it works to keep them from scratching themselves bloody. We can eat out most of the summer but when they bugs are bad we usually do it at lunch to avoid the heavy bug load.

  4. Juanita says

    You made me smile when you called them the bigs and the littles. That’s what I call ours when I’m telling my husband something they did. Only thing is our bigs are only almost 7 and 9 and our littles are 5, 3, and 2. I’m already noticing the influence the bigs have on the littles and can only imagine it gets more so as they get older.

  5. Erin says

    I’ve been on a similar mission for outside seating. I love that table and chairs (simple and classic with an easy to clean table top!), I’d love to know where you found it?


    • says

      Erin, here is my whole thought process.

      I wanted something that dries off easily and will stand up to our weather. It’s so often rainy and then sunny — but if the furniture is damp, you can’t sit on it!
      I didn’t want anything with a big profile, if you know what I mean. The deck has a lot going on, furniture-wise, and I wanted something simple.

      The chairs are from Pier One — they were on sale and I got the credit card for 10% off the sale price. I paid the credit card and will not likely use it again (that is the key!).

      They are the stackable ones, which is a bonus for when the (lovely amazing wonderful but crazy messy) sugar maple does its thing and the deck needs to be cleaned. The saleslady told me she has had a set for 5 years and they have held up very well. Hopefully that is true.

      They don’t come with a table in particular, and since my feeling is that the table is rather invisible anyway, why spend a fortune on it? This one is from Ocean State Job Lot, which is one of those low-end places that is a little scary. But hey — $80. It will wipe off, it’s sturdy, and I will probably use a tablecloth a lot anyway. The other saleslady told me that this is the table she got for her deck and it’s great.

      So the whole set came in at around $500, which I think is fairly reasonable for the attractiveness and usefulness of it! Considering that my last expenditure on dining furniture for the deck amounted to $12, I think that this was a good lifetime purchase!

      • Erin says

        Thank you! I had a similar thought process, no cushions to worry about storing and I wanted a small profile so we can maximize the space and fit larger groups in the space.

        I hadn’t really thought of mix and match. I just looked and Pier One is already starting to clearance some of those chairs (at least here in Minnesota). I hadn’t thought of stacking, but that would be great for a Minnesota winter where one really needs to cover or store furniture. Off to scour craigslist and thrift shops for a table. Thanks again, I can’t believe it never occurred to me look past one of the coordinated sets.

        • Anitra says

          Erin, another option is to get nice-ish folding outdoor chairs. That’s what we did – the table lives outdoors year-round, but the chairs usually live in our shed (right next to the patio) until needed – or you could fold them up and leave them outside. (We got ours from Target. The chairs are a black metal frame and mesh for the seat and back.)

          Of course, we did also buy one of those wooden picnic tables with attached benches last year – it doesn’t need much cleaning or maintenance, so it can sit out there all the time, ready to accommodate a snack outside, or sand play, or bubbles, or hold garden tools…. you get the idea.

  6. Lauri says

    Thank you so much for this advice! This is exactly where I am. I have 4, sometimes 5 that are here now for all the meals. And it has been an adjustment. I really like that now is their turn. But those bigs really can be all encompassing, attention getters!

  7. says

    Your flowers are lovely! Ours here are fading because the heat is pouring on more and more. I am also curious about the bug situation where you live. And I know that maybe it’s specific to each family, but at some point, don’t you have to start saying no to some of the outside commitments in order to protect the family time? I guess I’m a little jaded, because I grew up participating in all kinds of outside activities… marching band, color guard, orchestra, drama club, german club that really are meaningless to me now although… I would gladly go back and trade them all in for the chance to have had a closer family life.

    • Jeannie says

      Charlotte, I’m so glad you chimed in with your experience because I was wondering about outside commitments and when it might be fruitful to limit it. My dad insisted that we be home for dinners and Sundays we were always together. He wasn’t particularly pious going to Mass every Sunday but my grandparents were and we knew deep down that Sundays were set apart(we usually went to see grandparents and have our early dinner late lunch on Sundays).

    • says

      Yes, Charlotte — the corollary to all this is to keep a lid on the activity. As the kids get older, it’s harder to do, but that’s just a sign to pay attention to the younger ones and not let them get prematurely involved in things that detract from dinner.
      It’s one thing to eat on the bleachers, picnic-style, during baseball season. But it’s another to spend every waking moment running around, all year!

      • says

        It seems to me that in large families I know where there are big ones and little ones, the little ones keep getting enrolled in activities almost as a corollary (good word!) to the big ones. It’s like the parents feel guilty that the bigs get to do so much so they feel guilted into signing the littles up for stuff too. But then again, when it comes to sports, you “HAVE” to start them little or at least, that’s what the leagues tell you. Have you ever noticed that there are no beginning baseball teams for 12-14 year olds? By the age of 12 or 14 they expect that your kid has been playing since he was 4. Same thing for dancing and girls. Where can you find a beginner dance class for a 14 year old girl? And if you do do younger sports, they expect you to compete. My oldest son loved fencing and we found a fencing club in our area. We signed him up. He enjoyed it but had no desire to compete. The pressure was huge for him to compete and when we kept saying, “No thank you.” they eventually stopped teaching him and turned him into target practice for the other kids. Sorry. That my little soapbox right there. I should probably get off it now. :)

        • says

          Charlotte, we are also struggling with this and I agree that I would trade those meaningless outside activities for more memories of dinners and family time. While Pete was traveling for his job, we let too much creep in. I think it was a collective way of dealing with his absence. We are working on restructuring now, but as you said it is hard due to the fact that nothing ‘begins’ at 12-14.

          As to the competitiveness, I picked up on something some time ago and have a growing sense that my instincts were spot on. All that pressure to compete is because people are profiting financially off the competitions, training for them, and all the planning that goes into each competition. Karate, select sports, gymnastics, dance and apparently fencing all have their own version. I think some competition is healthy, but it has clearly gotten out of hand.

  8. Susan says

    Thank you for this encouragement–we are just at the beginning of this phenomenon with my oldest having his own evening activities that leave me home with just the couple of youngest. We already feel like this is taking a crazy chunk out of family time!

    I also wanted to say that I would love to hear more about the teenage years and transition to adulthood. I don’t know if Bridget would be interested in blogging about her next steps but you seem to have done fairly well launching adults so far and following along with that process would be of interest to me. But, I can think of lots of reasons you might NOT want to blog in such a personal, this-is-happening-now way about a teen, so no worries if that’s not possible.

  9. says

    We love eating outside when the weather permits! My kids are still fairly young and eating together is what we do, but I love what you said about the foundation we are trying to build – marriage – and that it’s worth sitting down with your husband if the kids are otherwise occupied. I hadn’t thought about it in those terms, but we actually do this intentionally one night a week – just my husband and I. We feed the girls earlier and they know that mom and dad will have a special dinner together later. We are hopefully showing them that the foundation of this family is mom and dad’s marriage (well, apart from God who is the true foundation…)

    Love your flowers…you guessed correctly about my post…full of flowers!

  10. Joy in Alabama says

    Thank you for the lovely post! I’m also enjoying your podcasts on Elizabeth Foss’ blog!

    Last year we went from having 7 our of 9 at home to having only 3 at home. What a change for me!! I had been used to cooking so.much.food and have had to actually learn how to cook less and have less leftovers, which no one seems to want to eat. And it was really lonely for the kids left at home (actually, we moved away from them as my husband is a pastor and moved to a new church). But we’ve adjusted and have had the pleasure of one daughter moving back in March to live with us while she finishes school. So it’s really interesting to see how the family dynamics have changed and the 7th child has moved to being the oldest (and has been amazing with helping me run the house, especially when my own dad was in the hospital for a month and I had to be away). And it’s interesting how new friendships have developed between the kids at home. Of course, I still hear from the other kids all day, every day via text.

    My husband and I have gotten much closer since our kids are mostly grown up (youngest is 11) and we’re not in the throes of diapers anymore. He takes me on little “second honeymoons” quite often and we’re closer than ever. We eat lunch as our main meal instead of dinner and that usually happens with everyone about 5 days a week. Of course, my oldest daughter at home (19) is not always here, but everyone else normally is. It’s very important to me and I try hard to make it happen! And Sunday lunch is our best meal of the week, which takes some effort, but is SO worth it!

    So be encouraged, young moms! Life changes quite a lot, but it’s still sweet and rewarding in different ways. And be sure to keep things in common with your husband – one day you’ll cherish that relationship even more.

    • LJ says

      “He takes me on little “second honeymoons” quite often and we’re closer than ever.” Thank you, thank you! It’s so hard being single and hearing all the stories of couples slipping away from each other… thank you!

  11. ArdenLynn says

    Funny how quickly it changes from “Why do I have to be home for dinner?” to a laundry list of meals that they request when they are home for school breaks.
    Thank you Leila, for periodically reminding me of my commitment to give my younger children the same upbringing the older ones had.

  12. LJ says

    My amazing mother has been mothering a “revolving door” house for almost a decade now. I’m 25, and it’s been a non-stop barrage of high school activities, kids moving in and out on college semesters, kids moving in and out on grad school/intern schedules, elderly parents, sick relatives, lonely friends-of-her-kids who have no where else to go (at least locally) for family companionship. I can say without a doubt, that even as we sprint in and out of the house, the steadying power of my mother consistently cooking dinner is a beacon light in a crazy world. She takes the occasional day (or week!) off when truly no one is around, but the majority of days finds her cooking dinner for her self, and/or my father, and/or the various passers-by that be. As Mother Teresa of Calcutta told us, in America, it may be that the greatest hunger is loneliness. Don’t discount the community-building and culture-preserving power of a mother dedicated to hospitality through her kitchen!

  13. says

    Very meaningful post, it moved me. I am a fan of the weekends for one reason: it’s the only part of the week where I can sit outside with my husband and kids and eat with them while enjoying the season. They’re all busy and always out nowadays. I do miss the time when my main job was to keep them from their seats. :)

  14. says

    Finally finally joining up after seeing these posts for years. I don’t know why, but this post inspired me to do so. Maybe it’s all the flowers? Anyway, I’m happy to join and am looking forward to seeing and making more phfr posts in the future! I really love this concept and feel like it’s such good motivation for positivity. Thank you, Leila!

  15. Kara says

    Appreciate the idea of focusing on littles….and 2 notes. As another poster said, being a “big” and seeing your parents focus on the littles is sometimes an incentive to get involved and make a point of being home. When I was a college student and popped home unexpectedly for dinner only to find the littles were all at a soccer game or some such thing, I felt true disappointment that they were growing up!!
    and 2…I wonder if forgetting to focus on the littles is why sometimes you see bigger families that have little ones who seem many years older than they are…in dress, interests..and not in a good way! I wonder if it’s a striving to be as important as the bigs….something I need to keep in mind with my own little ones as they grow.

    Thanks so much for you blog…..I’m Baptist, but so very much appreciate your wisdom and insights.

    • Mom to 9 says

      This post touched my heart. I have been struggling with so many of these feelings.
      Only two of my nine children are at home this summer. And in the fall only the youngest will be here! She is 13. These last two have often walked in the shadow of their older siblings. I don’t want to be a “tired” mom! I remember feeling that way as the 10th of 12 children. I knew my parents loved me, but I also felt they were tired of parenting.
      This post has inspired me to be more intentional with my time and attitude.
      Thank you Leila!

  16. says

    Your house is so homey and lovely! You can tell that “real living” goes on there. It’s a beautiful house because it’s a “real” house and not because it’s magazine-perfect. That is the best kind of house of all. :)

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