Two Homes, One Table: Family Dinner After Divorce
If family dinner had stopped, the lesson to my kids (and to myself) would be that we weren't whole anymore, that something was broken forever. I honestly didn't believe that to be true. The message I did believe, and the one our continuing dinners provided was—This family is changing, we are in a transition, but we are still a family! Not only that, but we are a family that is going to get through this and come out strong and connected.
Family dinner helped all of us weather the rough days by forcing my kids and I to deal with one another, by reminding all of us every day that we were still a family. Thank goodness for that toolbox of table games. When things got uncomfortable and no one was talking, I would toss out a spelling challenge or play the Pet Peeve game.
Then I took this concept one step farther. I had the notion (hope) that eventually I could even get my ex back to the table, with me sitting at it, for a once-a-month, dare say once-every-other-week, family dinner. Crazy, you say? Maybe it was, but I was eager to try. I wanted a different divorce model for my kids. They had lots of friends who were from broken homes (okay, that is a crazy expression we have to stop using. Could we make people feel even worse than they already do?) and whose parents were in constant battle. I didn't want to put my girls through that. They were innocent bystanders and deserved better.
I wanted an open line to my girls' dad so that we could be in sync as we headed into those turbulent teen seas I wanted both homes to have consistent values and rules if possible. I wanted to disarm my kids' potential bag of tricks. You know, the game where they play one parent against the other: "But Dad said..." or "At Dad's I can..." I wanted communication and transparency.
I also didn't want to cheat myself out of seeing one of my kids' most important relationships change and evolve as they got older. I didn't want to be excluded from all the laughs and inside jokes they shared with their father, and I didn't want to have that awful sense of feeling left out of half of my kids' life. I didn't want my kids thinking that their two parents weren't in constant contact and in total agreement. I didn't want to lose too much parental power.
Big agenda, I know, but I have taken on big challenges before! Family dinner would be the vehicle to get me there. Slowly, I started to ask Larry if he would have dinner with the kids and me on one of my nights. I received quite a few emphatic nos and then, lo and behold, I got a yes.
That first dinner was exactly what you can imagine: awkward and miserable, but mercifully quick. The girls downed their food in one gulp and hightailed it out of the kitchen with excuses of showers and homework. Larry left pretty quickly, too. Time was on my side, though. One meal turned into several, and soon enough we got back to our old family dinner ritual of "If It's Sunday We Must Be Eating Chinese Food." I would order the favorites and he would do the pickup on his way over to the house.
Eventually, the meals got a little longer, a little more relaxed; one night Larry even stayed for a movie afterward. Within the year, we branched out and started including local restaurants—still mostly Chinese, but at least we were out of the house. To this day I enjoy the surprised look on people's faces when they recognize Larry and realize he is having dinner with the kids and me! I'm sure one day I will read a gossip item saying how Larry was out to dinner with a woman who looks just like his ex-wife! Ha. It is his ex!
I wanted a happier, more inclusive divorce than what is generally the norm. I fought for it, but I couldn't do it alone. It took both parents, and two great kids, and a hexagon-shaped table, and all the word games that forced us to laugh even when we were hurting. During the most challenging time in my life, family dinner provided the space to reconnect with one another, to shore one another up, to remind us that we were okay. The shared meal was the path in. Amen.
Ready for a game night with your family? Try Laurie David's 3 ways to avoid the silent dinner table.
Excerpted from The Family Dinner by Laurie David. Copyright © 2010 by Hybrid Nation, Inc. Used by arrangement with Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.