"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
January 31, 2013
Family Dinner
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I’m having a problem. My husband does not get home from work until 7:30 p.m. at the earliest. He is often later than that. I never know from day to day what time he will arrive. 7:30? 8:05? 9:22? Even he cannot predict what time he will be able to leave his workplace on any given day. And he has no power to go in early to work and then leave at a consistent, reasonable time.

The problem is family dinner. How on earth do I make it happen when his schedule is both late and unpredictable? The children (elementary school aged and younger) get hungrier and crankier as the evening goes on. I can’t prepare a decent meal unless I know what time it will be served. By the time he gets home, everybody is upset and everything is in chaos.

I keep hearing that family dinner is critical for children, so I really want to make this work.


Family Dinner is very important.

Before dinner you can teach your children how to plan a meal, prepare healthy food, set a table, and wash their hands.

During dinner you can teach your children table manners, polite conversation, food appreciation, and the joy of trying new things.

After dinner you can teach your children to clean a kitchen.

And during the entire process, you can enjoy your children’s company and conversation.

But Family Dinner is also a time for eating! And most children—most people!—need to eat dinner at a reasonable hour. It is not reasonable to expect children to wait patiently to eat for hours after they are hungry for dinner. (To say nothing of what a late dinner does to bedtime.)

So what you need is a way to have Family Dinner without your husband, who is not able to be home in time for the children to eat. Put this way, the solution is simple: you hold Family Dinner with the children at a reasonable time every day, even though your husband is not yet home.

No, this is not as good as having Family Dinner with your husband. But if his work schedule does not allow him to be home for dinner, you have to make the best of it. You’ve tried waiting for him and being flexible, and that’s not working. So this is Plan B. (You will notice that I did not recommend that you insist he find a new job. Insisting that your spouse find a new job, no matter what reason you give, comes across as criticism and complaining. It doesn’t work.)

In Plan B, you eat Family Dinner with the kids. Observe all the rituals: make the meal, set the table, sit down together, pray, practice good manners, talk about your day. Clean up together. Do everything you would do if your husband were there.

Then, when Dad arrives home for the last minutes of the children’s waking hours, he plays special Dad games and reads special Dad stories with the kids, which is how they really want to spend their time with him. Then he takes the lead in putting them to bed, and supervises family scriptures and prayer.

After the kids are down, he heats up the plate you have fixed for him, and the two of you sit and chat while he eats.

You might also consider having a small family snack before bed. Or getting up early to eat breakfast together.

On weekends, you can eat as many family meals as you like. Family Breakfast. Family Lunch. Family Treat. Family Dinner. This is a good time to reinforce for the children that family meals are important. So don’t laze out on Saturday and Sunday—eat whatever meals you can, together at the table.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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