Recently, Luisa was out of town for work and I was preoccupied with everything that had to be done that evening. I needed to supervise homework and reading and make sure the kids took showers and then needed to find time to do my own work. But before I could get to all that, I had to get dinner on the table and then do the dishes. I was stressed out and feeling impatient with my kids who seemed to be floating through the house without a care in the world and at that very moment, both kids drifted into my path and I said, “You did more to help around the house when you were toddlers.”
It was a fact.
I thought of Miguel at two years old taking dishes from the cabinet and how I held my breath as he carried fragile plates to the table with his tiny hands. Once when my mother was visiting, she pursed her lips in disapproval and said, “You shouldn’t let him do that. He is going to break those plates.” I said, “Well, if he does, he’ll learn to be more careful the next time.” But he never broke a dish.
And I thought of Zeca at the same age, wearing a little apron and standing on a step stool at the sink to wash dishes - small hands and suds and slippery glasses – but she never broke a single thing either.
And as I stood there looking at these children now 13 and 9, I wondered when we stopped expecting as much from them.
In February, when we met with Dr. Doherty to discuss Barilla’s Share The Table study and the resulting initiative, I felt confident about family mealtime. Our family sits down for dinner together almost every night and we talk about our lives in a way that builds connections that I can see and feel. But I also learned about the importance of including the kids in all aspects of the meal, including clean up, which fascinated me. Why would doing dishes be associated with kids feeling positive about family mealtime?
Since then, we have expected more - our kids have cooked and have done dishes when asked - but our expectations have not been consistent. I have treated our inconsistency with compassion because balancing work and family is hard and there is no such thing as perfection. There are hopes and intentions and effort and we do the best we can.
But that night in the kitchen, I was tired and overwhelmed and convinced that our kids were the most entitled kids in the entire world and we’d failed as parents and that I should probably just give up and move to a farm to raise alpacas who don’t do dishes but at least give wool.
My son looked at me and said, “Mom, that’s harsh,” and I stopped for a moment, leaned against the counter and thought about it.
My tone was one of impatience – that is true – but the statement itself was also true but him calling me out triggered my parental guilt and I apologized. I took a deep breath and calmly asked the kids to set the table and then we sat down to dinner in silence.
As forks hit plates and the kids chewed loudly, I thought about what I’d said and realized that my frustration actually had very little to do with needing help. I was bothered by this idea that doing dishes was helping me when it should be seen as helping the family.
And that’s when I finally understood the connection between the meal and the dishes and those statistics Dr. Doherty had shared with us back in February. It’s not about the dishes at all. In banding together to share the burdens of family life, we show respect for each other and create a sense of unity, families are better able to face the challenges that lie ahead. Everything came together for me in that moment and I broke the silence of our meal.
I told the kids that the work of families should be shared by everyone - because we love and respect each other, because we care about each other, because we are all in this together.
That night after dinner, Zeca stood at the sink and washed dishes and passed them to Miguel who dried them and passed them to me to put away and they bickered but we also laughed and when we finished, I pointed out how quickly we had finished. I could see they both felt a sense of accomplishment and I was happy to have turned the evening around and called for a family hug and it felt good despite their groans and eye rolls. This is a new dance for us and I know that we’ll sometimes stumble but I am confident that we will make our way together.
This is a sponsored post on behalf of Barilla, however, my opinions are entirely my own and I have not been paid to publish positive sentiments towards Barilla or their products. Share this post with the hashtag #sharethetable to join the conversation and Barilla will donate 10 meals to Feeding America.