Family DinnerNot to brag or anything, but my family had a great summer (one appendectomy and a bout with mono notwithstanding). My two kids went to camp most days, and on the days they didn’t, we hung out at the town pool, went on trips to places like Grounds for Sculpture, or stayed inside playing Uno and Sorry. So when my 9-year-old daughter said, “I’m sad school’s starting. We’ll have no time together anymore,” I knew just what she meant. Memories of rushing to after-school activities, scrambling to get the homework done before dinner, and fighting when it wasn’t done came flooding back. While I wasn’t so worried about my son, who’s just starting kindergarten, I determined that this year, my daughter and I would do things differently. So here’s the plan:

  1. Start the homework an hour after arrival. Some parents choose to have their kids start homework the second they get home from school. But according to Dr. Cindy Bunin, a.k.a., Dr. Cindy, a therapist, Panasonic's National Spokesperson for the "Bring Back Family Time Campaign," founder of Mommy and Me, and author of the book, Parenting: Unplugged, 365 Fun, Practical Ways to get Unplugged and Connect with Your Kids, that’s not a great idea: “Think what it would be like for you as an adult to walk in the door from work and have to start work all over again. Not fun. So, let your children relax for about an hour, have a healthy snack,” and then get to the homework.
  2. Start out fun. I decided to take advantage of the facts that homework is usually not too heavy or difficult in the beginning of the school year; and that my daughter’s extracurricular activities wouldn’t start for a couple of weeks. These two facts meant that it would be relatively easy for my daughter to finish her homework before dinnertime, which in turn would make it easy for us to have real fun after dinner. I decided to let her choose the after-dinner activity so that she’d really enjoy it. Then, when the hard and heavy workload hits and she’s reluctant to do her homework when she needs to, I’ll be able to remind her how much fun it was to have time to do stuff after dinner.
  3. Make it a priority. When Dr. Cindy first imparted to me this gem—“Make it a priority”!—it sounded like a cop-out. If your kid is struggling to find time for her homework, the teacher will say, “Make it a priority!” If he’s got the makings of a great baseball player but has a hard time fitting in enough practice, the coach will say, “Make it a priority!” Obviously, if you try to make everything a priority, then nothing is. But then Dr. Cindy explained, “Family time is spending time together. It can be cooking a meal together, talking at the dinner table… or even walking the dog together. It’s about the focused time you spend together, not the amount of time.” So when your kid’s got soccer practice and homework in four subjects, an Uno marathon probably isn’t in the cards (haha, get it? Uno “in the cards”?). But it probably is possible for each person to talk about his or her day over dinner (Do not, under any circumstances, have the TV on during dinner!). Don’t let your kids get up and do something else during dinner, even if he or she is finished or doesn’t want to eat. This will help ensure that dinnertime really is family time.

And, Dr. Cindy points out, if every night is a chaotic jumble of after-school clubs and challenging homework, consider “not so many extracurricular activities.”

Now if you’re not feeling guilty enough, Dr. Cindy left me with this parting thought: “The largest federally funded study of American teenagers found a strong association between regular family meals (five or more dinners per week with a parent) and academic success, psychological adjustment, and lower rates of alcohol use, drug use, early sexual behavior, and suicidal risk.”

So get cookin’!


More by NJ Family's Real Moms of NJ Blogger, Renée Sagiv Riebling: