A modern lifestyle brand redefining motherhood

Don’t Feel Guilty If You Don’t Have Time for Family Dinner

It’s 4:50 p.m. on a Wednesday, and this is the scene at my house: I’m madly rushing to finish up cooking dinner, while tripping on my one-year-old who, in preparation for her witching hour, has thrown herself at my feet. Meanwhile, the five-year-old is bemoaning his starvation, despite the fact that he had a snack an hour ago, and his dinnertime smoothie is already in front of him.


I slam their food on the table, like an ornery waitress at one of those 50s-themed diners, but I won’t be sitting down with my kids to eat tonight. Sure, I may plop down in exhaustion on the chair next to my son, but I’ll be up in three minutes, cleaning up spilled milk from my kindergartner or thrown food from the toddler.

My husband won’t be joining us either, thanks to his Silicon Valley job with a long commute and even longer hours.

Yet again, we won’t be having a family dinner together. Even though I know my husband and I spend plenty of time with our young children, I still feel guilty from seeing report after report extol the virtues of having every member in the family sit down together for an evening meal.

I know we’re not the only family who’s not having dinner together tonight and feeling bad about it. But a study from 2012 can assuage our guilt. Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that family dinner itself did not create the benefits that have been previously reported in children whose families share nightly mealtime. Those benefits were lower obesity rates, greater academic success, and fewer instances of substance abuse and delinquent behavior. Instead, family dinner was “a marker for families that have a bundle of traits that contribute to good child outcomes,” MinnPost reported.

Families that regularly have mealtime together tend to have more time and money and are more likely to have a non-employed stay-at-home mother than families who don’t dine together, according to the report.

Unlike in previous studies on family mealtimes, researchers for the University of Minnesota report were able to use data that asked both children and parents questions about their family life, and it asked these questions at several different times during the participants’ childhoods. The data came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, a long-term study of a sample of 18,000 children.

The study’s conclusion is a classic example of confusing correlation for causation. It’s also reminiscent of recent research that indicates that the previously-reported benefits of breastfeeding have been exaggerated. (Breastfed babies tend to be in families with more resources than formula-fed children, and this socioeconomic status is more likely the cause of these children’s better health and well-being.)

In a similar vein, Bruce Feiler, a New York Times columnist and author of “The Secrets of Happy Families,” argued that it’s not the family dinner that yields the benefits, but the quality time spent together – no matter the occasion or time of day.

In his research into tens of thousands of cataloged chats around the dinner table, Feiler found that there is actually only 10 minutes of real conversation.

“The rest is taken up with ‘take your elbows off the table’ and ‘pass the ketchup’ and all that kind of stuff,” he told radio program “The Splendid Table.”

So if regular family dinners don’t work for your family – like mine – there’s no need to feel guilty. Ann Meier, co-author of the University of Minnesota study and University of Minnesota associate professor of sociology, told MinnPost that family meals “may be a nice kind of ritual context for good parenting to happen,” but families can connect with each other at other times and in other ways.

Feiler came to a similar conclusion, saying that as long as families can find 10-15 minutes a day to bond and have that “real conversation,” they will reap the same benefits as having family dinner. Taking the concept of “time-shifting” from the work world, he said, families who can’t eat together nightly can simply time-shift their family time.

How can your busy family carve out 15-30 minutes a day to check in and spend quality time together? Here are five alternatives to the revered family dinner:

Family breakfast

This is one of the alternate rituals Feiler recommended, but is family breakfast a truly viable option for families scrambling to pack lunches, make daycare and school dropoff, and get to work? Apparently so, I found when I crowd sourced family-dinner-alternative ideas from friends and parenting groups on Facebook.

“We only do family dinner one to three times per week, but we have breakfast together every morning,” said Beth Wolf, mom of two children under four in Chicago. “The kids get us up early anyway!”

Family breakfast is an ideal choice for families with little ones who are up at the crack of dawn. If you’re up with your kids and sleep deprived long before you have to start your morning commute, why not share some eggs and toast together?

Video chats

Since my kids changed their nap schedules this summer and started going to bed at 7 p.m. – before my husband even gets home from work – an evening video call through the Houseparty app has become part of my family’s daily routine. It’s a chance for my son to tell Daddy about what happened at transitional kindergarten that day and the toddler to say “Dada, Dada” excitedly when she sees her dad’s face – and a great replacement for the family dinner that doesn’t work with our family’s schedule.

Family video chats are well suited for families where a parent travels a lot or works odd hours, like Laura Birks-Reinert’s family in New Jersey. Her husband works nights, so she and her twin six-year-old boys Skype with Daddy at 7 p.m. every day, sometimes during bath time.

Play

Many families feel like mealtimes aren’t the best time for real conversation anyway. Families with young children often spend most of dinnertime cleaning up spills and managing one crisis after another. Tweens and teens feel like they’re being interrogated about school and friends when everyone is gathered at the dinner table, staring at them.

Family play time might, in fact, be a better way to spend quality time than mealtimes.

“In our home, our family spends plenty of time together,” said Teresa Currivan, parent coach and mother to an 11-year-old in Oakland, Calif. “As long as some of that is quality time, I’m fine skipping the family dinner. Our family does improv games together, Nerf battles, etc. Play lends itself to more connection than sitting and eating together all the time – at least for my gang.”

Blogger and author Kelly Holmes has instituted five to 10 minutes of family cuddle time in bed after everyone returns from work and school to give her family of five a chance to re-connect before their busy evening routine starts.

While family play happens more spontaneously with little ones, there’s still ways to engage with older kids. Families can gather for weekend board game nights or participate in daily conversation games that author Bruce Feiler recommended. Those games include “Bad and Good,” in which every family member takes a turn telling one thing that was good about their day and one that was bad, and “Pain Points,” where everyone talks about a difficult situation they’re facing.

Special weekly routines

Like the weekend board game nights I previously mentioned, creating weekly family traditions is another great way to bond, especially as your kids grow older and want to spend less time with you and more time hiding in their rooms (on Snapchat with friends).

Move family dinner to Sunday night, and invite the kids to help you prep and cook. Bring the family together for Sunday brunch, go for a walk Sunday afternoon before dinner, or sit down for a movie and bowl of popcorn Saturday night.

Driving time

Make use of all those hours you spend in the car, shuttling the kids to and from after-school activities. Instead of conversation during family dinner, this is where your family’s real discussions can happen.

Car chats are what works best for Jacqui Pastoral-Conclara and her husband in San Bruno, California, as they drive their three boys, aged 11, 13 and 15, to after-school sports and weekend travel tournaments.

“I found that the time we drive to the games is the perfect opportunity to connect with my kids,” she said. “They tend to be introspective and profound in these conversations when trapped traveling in the car with their parents.”

And if your child is feeling a bit reticent about opening up on their own during the drive, try one of Feiler’s conversational games: “Bad and Good” or “Pain Points.”

A special note about teenagers

Remember that University of Minnesota study showing that family dinner isn’t what leads to the positive outcomes in children? There’s one exception – teenagers. (Teenagers are always the exception, right?)

According to the researchers, adolescents whose families shared mealtimes tended to report fewer symptoms of depression. Study author Ann Meier theorized that these regular family meals might be an opportunity for parents to check on their teenager’s emotional well-being and intervene if necessary.

Note: There was no similar association between family dinner and adolescent substance abuse or delinquency, like shoplifting or damaging property.

But again, if you’re a parent of teenagers and can’t fit nightly family mealtimes into your schedule, connect with your kids with Sunday dinner or conversation during car rides.

No matter what your children’s ages, try to take at least 10-15 minutes a day to really be there for them. Put down your phone, turn off the TV or car radio, open your ears, and see what happens.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

Subscribe to get inspiration and super helpful ideas to rock your #momlife. Motherhood looks amazing on you.

Already a subscriber? Log in here.

Toddlers can alternatively be the sweetest and most tyrannical people on the planet. Figuring the world out is tough, but it is possible to teach them how to care for and respect others—and the first steps start with you.

Here are five tips from Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting Dr. Azine Graff on teaching empathy through modeling and playtime, with some of our favorite dolls from Manhattan Toy Company.


1. "I wonder if she's sad." 

Think about it: The first step to understanding the emotions of others is being able to recognize them in yourself. Graff recommends looking for opportunities to label emotions throughout the day by helping your child identify sadness, anger, happiness, and fear.

You can do this by pointing to someone smiling in a book or noticing a baby crying in the grocery store. Try saying, "The baby is crying. I wonder if she is sad." Over time, your little one will learn to label emotions on their own.

2. "How can we take care of her?" 

Dramatic play can be a great time to model care and compassion for others. That's one reason why baby dolls make such great toys for toddlers—not only are they great for open-ended play, they also provide the opportunity to teach caretaking.

For example, you can ask your child, "The baby is yawning and seems very tired. How can we take care of her?" We love the award-winning Wee Baby Stella doll from Manhattan Toy Company to turn playtime into a time for empathy teaching.

3. "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower."

You can set the best example of empathy by taking time to notice and validate your child's feelings. Instead of trying to immediately shush crying, react from a place of compassion.

For example, if your child throws a tantrum over a fallen block tower, try saying, "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower." This demonstrates the importance of understanding feelings, even if they are not our own.

4. "Do you want to try with me?"

Once your child is better able to identify their emotions, they're in a better place to find solutions with your help. "When we can help our children through challenging feelings, especially when they are struggling, we are modeling care for others," Graff says.

The next time your child gets upset, you can say, "It is frustrating when something falls apart. It helps me to take a deep breath when I'm frustrated. Do you want to try with me?"

5. Express your own feelings

It can be tempting to hide your feelings from your child, but when modeled appropriately, it can teach them that feelings are a normal part of life. Over time, you will see them use the same strategies of empathy on you, like kissing your "boo-boos" or suggesting you take a deep breath when you're upset.


This article is sponsored by Manhattan Toy Company. Thank you for supporting that brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Dr. Azine Graff is a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting, which is based in Los Angeles and offers groups, classes, therapy and consultation services informed by the latest research on child development.

With the big news now out of the way, pregnant Meghan Markle and her husband Prince Harry have begun a massive tour of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. Over the next two weeks the couple is set to make 76 engagements. (We're tired just thinking about it.)

With a schedule like that it seems like Meghan is probably feeling as good as a pregnant person can, and reports suggest she's had a 12-week ultrasound, which means she's just rolling into her second trimester—a time many mamas look back on as their "easiest" part of pregnancy.

The tour schedule is a daunting one, but of course many women travel and work during their pregnancies, and Meghan has never been one to sit still long. Basically, there's no reason an uncomplicated pregnancy would warrant a big change in her plans.

Here's what we know about Meghan's pregnancy so far:

She's well aware of the Zika situation

Entertainment Tonight reports the Duchess will not be accompanying her husband to engagements at the Fiji War Memorial or the Colo-i-Suva forest (she'll be doing morning tea at the British High Commissioner's residence and meeting women vendors at a local market instead, Hello reports), and this schedule tweak is possibly pregnancy-related.

The World Health Organization advises against travel to by pregnant people to Fiji (and Tonga, another island on the Duke and Duchess' itinerary) due to the risk of Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes.

The Duchess has likely discussed Zika risks extensively with her medical team, and if they've given her the green light, no one should hassle her about this. It's her choice, and in both Tonga and Fiji, the risk of Zika infection is now a lot lower than it was in 2016, CNN reports.

We can expect to see lots of long-sleeved outfits on that part of the tour.

While she's technically experiencing a "geriatric pregnancy," that term is outdated 

"Geriatric" is absolutely the last word we would ever associate with the youthful beauty that is Meghan Markle, but at 37, she's technically in the zone that some doctors (still) refer to as a "geriatric pregnancy."

The unfortunate (and downright rude) term has been replaced in the vocabulary of many medical providers by "advanced maternal age" (which is slightly less rude), but is still being used by many members of the press covering Markle's pregnancy announcement.

Labeling the Duchess' pregnancy as geriatric may be technically correct as she's over 35 but it's hardly necessary when there are much kinder ways to phrase it. And while many royal watchers are pointing out that Meghan's advanced maternal age puts her at higher risk for some pregnancy complications, plenty of healthy 37-year-old women have babies every day.

Now is actually a great time for her to travel 

While a lot of airlines don't recommend or even allow traveling (especially a long international flight) late in pregnancy (we're talking like 38 weeks) Meghan is still far from that stage.

The UK's National Health Service advices British moms-to-be that late pregnancy and early pregnancy are the trickiest when it comes to travel, noting the airline rules and that: "Some women try to avoid travelling in the first 12-15 weeks of pregnancy because exhaustion and nausea tend to be worse at this early stage."

It sounds like Meghan is just beyond that uncomfortable bit and into the fun part of pregnancy. We can't wait to see some royal bump pics.

You might also like:

Mamas rarely get to treat themselves to a new wardrobe when they're focused on everyone else's needs. However, a new season is the ultimate opportunity to add a few new staples to your closet.

With temperatures dropping, you might be tempted to wear leggings and large sweaters daily (okay, that's not going to change) but these pieces will easily update your go-to fall wardrobe. Add a great pair of shoes, or swap in a new accessory and you'll be ready to take on this new season.

Here are some of our favorite items we keep reaching for day after day.


1. Functional dress

Since the weather isn't cold enough just yet, transition pieces are essential for your wardrobe. This dress is cozy and can be dressed up with heeled boots or dressed down with sneakers. Add tights and a scarf when the temperature drops.

Mock-Neck Shift Dress, Old Navy, $34.99

BUY

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

You might also like:

What would an extra $1,000 per month mean to you? Would it mean an early retirement? More Travel? The ability to save for a house or pay for your kids' college expenses? No matter what your lifestyle goals are, earning extra money is a great way to reach them, but earning extra money can be a daunting task.

However, if you're willing to put in a little extra work or find that you have extra time in the evenings, you can earn an extra $1,000 per month. These are some money making strategies to consider.

1. Negotiate a raise

If you're a valued employee at your company, the best way to make an extra money each month is to negotiate a raise. To do this, write down your accomplishments and research salary data on Glassdoor.com. Then schedule time with your manager to discuss a raise.

Your manager may make it seem like it's not possible to get a raise outside of the annual schedule, but that is not always true. Great companies want to retain their best employees, and if you've proven yourself, leverage your value to earn more money.

Most people avoid asking for a raise because they do not like confrontation, but a few minutes of discomfort can yield a substantial income boost. If you utilize data and tact to request a raise, most companies will offer a raise if they're able.

2. Change companies

If you're an excellent employee, but you can't negotiate a raise, consider searching for new jobs if possible. The easiest time to earn extra money is when you switch companies as you have more leverage because you know that the potential employer wants you on board.

In general, when you switch companies, you can expect a 10-20% raise in base salary whereas annual raises tend to be around 2-5%. Job searching might stress you out, but a few weeks of effort can allow you to earn an extra $1,000 per month.

3. Take on a weekend job

If you've maxed out your earnings in your day job, consider taking on a weekend job if your schedule allows it. Because you're trading time off for money, you want to be sure that the job is worth it, so target jobs that will allow you to earn $25 per hour.

You may be surprised how many weekend jobs yield that type of pay. For example, some car dealerships hire weekend employees to be salespeople or your favorite store could look for some extra hands. Taking a job like childcare isn't a bad idea either, especially if you're already taking care of your little and they could benefit from having others around. Although those jobs won't necessarily equate to an extra $1,000 per month (unless you work a ton), they may lead to other opportunities.

4. Start a side business

If you want to earn an extra $1,000 per month, but you want to do it on your own terms, consider starting a side business. If you've got house repair skills, you can start a handyman business; if you're an accountant, you can take on some bookkeeping clients on the side.

Consider starting a service for a passion of yours, like teaching music or tennis lessons. If you're price conscious, you can find items to flip on eBay, or you can start a business selling products via Fulfilled By Amazon.

If you've got a business idea, bring it to life on the nights and weekends. Although starting a business tends to be a slow path to extra income, the upside potential is tremendous. In time, a successful side business can allow you to earn well in excess of $1,000 per month.

5. Freelance

If you work in an in-demand field, you can earn extra funds by freelancing. Becoming a freelance consultant will allow you to charge a premium rate for your services while you take on just one or two extra projects a month. Small businesses who don't need full-time services may pay two or three times your typical rate if you produce results for them.

Switching from a traditional employment situation to freelancing may also yield a big income boost, but before you make the jump be sure your extra income isn't eaten up by paying for your own benefits, such as taxes or startup fees.

Originally posted on Financial Gym.

You might also like:

[Trigger warning: This essay describes a woman's experience with anxiety.]

Dear anxiety,
We've been together for as long as I can remember. You've always been there, especially during those nights when I couldn't fall asleep—my mind hot with worry, ruminating over the day's events, making mental to-do lists that went on forever (and ever… and ever…).

You were there the time my husband arranged to meet a seller from a virtual yard sale site in a store parking lot to pick up a pair of kid scooters. He had our two young children in the car, which already had me on edge. Perfect for you, I was an easy target that day.

I knew their meeting time and I figured it should take less than five minutes for him to hand the man cash and put the scooters in the trunk. Five minutes turned into ten. Ten turned into fifteen.

You were there when I left multiple messages on my husband's phone. You watched as I found the seller's page on Facebook, scrutinizing his family photos and quickly realizing that most of the pictures were blurry and you could only see his kids' backs in all of them—never their faces.

In that moment, I was convinced the seller had attacked my husband and drove away with our kids in the car. You watched as I took slow, deliberate breaths and went outside for some air. You watched as I answered my cell—my husband finally calling back to explain they'd stopped at Home Depot where there was bad cell reception.

You'd gotten the best of me again, stealing time I should have spent doing anything other than obsessing over the multitude of awful things that could have (but didn't!) happen to my family.

Ugh. Anxiety.

You're on the playground as I follow my children who are running after older kids with toy guns. I watch as they climb boulders, fly off swings in mid-air, and get too close to strangers who could, I don't know, snatch them up in a blink of an eye?

You're with me in every parking lot in the state of New Jersey where strangers stare or park dark vans next to my SUV. You follow us into stores as my son darts down another aisle, losing sight of him for a millisecond—that millisecond that makes my heart stop.

You love farms where my kids stick tiny hands through wire fences as a cow's large tongue licks grains off their palms and a donkey's teeth get dangerously close to their fingers. And there's that wandering peacock who looks at us with wild eyes.

You're at the pool where my son is going off the diving board backward and my daughter is staying under for way longer than her lungs can handle and I feel like every child is about to drown.

You're there when the library books are overdue and the cheerleading uniform isn't washed and the shoes are all over the floor and there's that strange spot on the back of my throat and what looks like black mold on the patio cushions.

I've tried to get rid of you—truly I have. But anti-anxiety medication, yoga, and mindfulness classes were all lukewarm attempts to band-aid the agony you can cause.

Unlucky for you, I've discovered your kryptonite: gratitude.

It's the acknowledgment of what has gone right that anchors me and pushes you into dark corners. There's power in an underlying thankfulness that washes out worry and overpowers the never-ending string of "what-ifs."

Gratitude comes in the form of a time when my husband likes his job again and we have extra money for new garage doors and guest room furniture.

It's living in a house that's much larger than the two-bedroom apartment I grew up in but our 7-year-old still describes as warm and cozy.

It's the start of the school year when the kids are happy with their teachers and have kind friends and birthday invitations in the mailbox. It's a winter free of strep throat or illness.

It's having a capable, confident husband who can fix anything. It's being able to work from home doing a job I love so I can still be there for after-school snacks, library volunteer shifts, and class trips.

When we focus on the minutiae of our days, we see they're jam-packed with countless joys that far outweigh the bad. But if disaster does strike—whether it's a death or job loss or unexpected tragedy—that's when community and faith step in, taking the place of anxious thoughts or worry.

Because you see, anxiety is anticipation—not reality—that feeds off the future like a leech and is rendered powerless in the present.

Here's where our relationship ends, my old friend. You've manipulated me for too long—tricking me into thinking all those misguided internet searches and late-night texts over something small was worthwhile—and we're done.

Love,

A very grateful mama

You might also like:

Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.