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What I've Learned at My Kitchen Table About Parenting

Did you know that a wenis is the skin that covers the tip of your elbow, and the skin on the inside of your elbow is called a wagina? Do I have your attention? Did you know that the pom-pom on top of a hat can be traced back to early French sailors who used them for extra protection of their heads while sailing through rough seas? Interesting, right?! Did you know that that the Spinosaurus was bigger than a Tyranosaurus Rex and lived on both land and in water like a crocodile? Wow!!

This information might seem useless and insignificant. It might seem like random bits of knowledge with very little value, but its importance has less to do with the facts themselves, and much more to do with where I learned them and who I learned them from.

Our kitchen table realistically seats six people, but we squeeze in seven of us around it and pull a high chair up to a corner making it a makeshift table for eight. I am not sure what we will do when our youngest outgrows the highchair, but I know we will make it work. We will make it work with all of us, in the same room, around the same table, because it is undeniably important.

I sometimes think of the kitchen table as “the table of knowledge.” We are not just gathering to eat, but to see each other and connect. It is our chance, not only to talk to our kids about what chores they need to do, the events coming up that they need to prepare for, or about their homework, but it is also our chance to listen, to discuss, and yes, even argue. I have learned that my six-year-old has a very good friend who is a girl, but that does not mean she is his “girlfriend” and being friends with a girl does not mean you are in love! It’s true!! I have learned that my two-year-old has a few cuss words in his vocabulary and knows how to use them appropriately, which means we all need to be adjusting how we express our frustrations. We are working on that! I have learned that my older boys are not just interested in sports, and can carry on a conversation about history or religion or politics when given a little prompting. I have learned that topics like death, divorce and disability can be really confusing on a lot of different levels. And I’ve learned encouraging discussions, even when they are uncomfortable, can open the door for a potential one-on-one conversation down the road.

Not every meal at the table goes smoothly though. We definitely have the typical hardships during this time like a spilled drink, or the dreaded and annoying complaining of the food. There was also this one incident that resulted in yogurt being thrown with punches being thrown shortly after. The boys don’t really remember what they were fighting about, but we do get a laugh about that every now and then. Of course it was not funny at the time! There is also the paint splotch on the ceiling that looks like an elephant’s behind some days and a bear others. I don’t know how the butter ended up on the ceiling, but I do know that there are several shades of “white” ceiling paint! Once I accidentally left a pot holder on the stove burner and started a fire…OK twice. And we always try to have our backup staple of peanut butter, jelly and bread just in case!

The stress of getting meals made in a consistent timeframe, maneuvering around the fluctuating work and activities schedule, or assisting little ones with their constant needs (needs that always seem to erupt in full force when you are trying to make dinner) might get you thinking that meal time isn’t worth the effort to sit down together every day, but it is. It really is.

There are times when our lives can be so fast paced and busy, that we miss making connections with each other. We might miss hearing that the daily “up” for the 6th grader would have been helping a friend with his math during class, and recognizing how that made him feel, or that the “down” for the day might have been not having a “good” pair of socks washed which would clue us in that someone better start socks and underwear on the next wash load. We might miss an expression of disappointment over a practice after school and the opportunity to give some needed encouragement. On the other hand, there are times when the days can seem slow or just kind of blah and the consistency of that scheduled time together can be something to look forward to, when someone might ask how your day was and where you have a chance to say more than just “fine.” My four-year-old doesn’t always understand the conversations and exchanges we share around the table, but he has learned to voice himself so that others listen, even if it is just to tell a “once upon a time” story about a dragon and six brothers.

You see, for me, the kitchen table is far more than just a place to eat. It’s a place to ask. It’s a place to be heard. It’s a place that fosters empathy and compassion. It’s a place for fears and dreams, for love and disagreements. It’s a place to learn. It’s a place to grow.

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