Inside His Head: Trouble at the family dinner table


Ever wondered what goes on inside the male mind? Have no idea what your husband is thinking sometimes? Yep, we get it. That’s why we asked three local husbands to tell us what goes on inside their heads (anonymously) so we mamas can all get a little more insight. Enjoy.

Dear Inside His Head:

My husband and I grew up in very different families. His family never talked at the dinner table and our dinners were loud and boisterous (and fun). I want my three kids to enjoy meals together, but he wants them to be quiet and eat their food. This sounds minor, but it is causing a huge conflict in our marriage. Do you have any advice for resolving this?

Thank you.

greg1.thumbnailGRAY: It does sound minor. I’m having trouble with this being a “huge” conflict unless it represents a larger issue. If I were to guess, I’d say he doesn’t necessarily mind if they’re happy, but might be seeing loud and boisterous as a display of lack of discipline or respect.

Figure out what time around the table means to both of you. For you it may be a time to celebrate the family and talk about the activities of the day, but he may only see kids playing with the food, minutes away from launching spoon catapults of mashed potatoes at each other.

He may see the food as an extension of himself – purchased by his hard work – and when he sees his son wearing the spaghetti as a mustache he can only see a lack of respect, not earnest fun. Maybe he just wants a few minutes of peace (who doesn’t?) with his family.

Find the common ground. You may see his ways as austere and he may think you’d rather dine in a zoo, but there must be common ground.

A good practice is to talk about your highs and lows of the day. It gives everyone a way to share joys and concerns in a way that’s meaningful, yet orderly. He may warm to the idea if talk around the table doesn’t mean everyone yelling over each other. After all, if you’re listening you’ve got plenty of time to eat.

If it’s a discipline issue, take a look at how often he corrects the children. Is “wait until your father comes home” said often? If he is (or at least feels like) the disciplinarian of the family then chaos at dinner looks like burden to him and not like a respite he can share with all of you. Worst of all, he might see you as an enabler, practically winding the children up for battle instead of helping him keep the peace.

Even if you don’t completely see eye-to-eye about why you’re doing it, take some time to be thankful. Sitting down together as a family to eat is wonderful. Don’t let personal differences tear it apart. It’s one of the best practices a family can do together.

MICHAEL: Everyone has a different idea of fun. I actually fall somewhere in the middle on this. Loud and boisterous strikes me as rude.

If you teach the children that its ok to act that way during meals at home then they’re likely to act the same way at meals taken at a restaurant. Trust me, no one likes those families.

However, to enforce total silence during a meal is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Mealtime provides one of the  few times that we all can get together without phones, iPods, and televisions(you do turn those all off, right?) and have conversations about what’s going on in everyone’s life.

I encourage you to find a middle ground. Polite conversation at a respectable volume is perfectly acceptable at the dinner table.

MAVERICK: Where did your husband grow up, a monastery? Where did you grow up, a frat house? This situation seems to simply scream for compromise.

It seems a reasonable amount of table conversation is warranted. Somewhere between total silence and Animal House.

table mannersYour husband clearly can’t object to that unless he’s a total control freak. You shouldn’t object unless your really covering for the fact you’ve raised a troop of baboons with no manners.

Everyone in the family deserves to eat their dinner in relative peace. No one should not have to deal with a lot of nuttiness while they try to enjoy their meal.

Basic conversation and sharing is perfectly acceptable. Some laughter and joking should be encouraged. Screaming, loudness for loudness sake, greediness and general jerkiness should be unwelcome at the family table and children should not be allowed to get away with such antics.

You’ll also be doing your children a huge favor. A lot of kids today don’t know how to act at a dinner table. Their manners are poor and sense of decorum simply does not exist.

How to behave at the table is something children should learn at home. And they should be mannerly not because “It’s the rule” but because it’s how decent, civilized humans behave toward each other.

So cooperate. Have reasonable expectations. And both of you enjoy your dinner.

Got a question for the guys? Email it to mamas{at}nwamotherlode{dot}com. To read previous Inside His Head Q & As, click here.