Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sit! Stay!

They look so sweet.  Or are they planning something?

I've always envied those Moms who have managed to teach their kids to say, "May I be excused?" before wandering away from a meal.  Heck, I envy Moms who have gotten their kids to stay seated while chewing.  "Sit like you're going to stay there" is something that I say to my five-year-old at least twice a meal (both legs on the chair is a good start).  My three-year-old simply refuses to say anything on command.  And since we've tried on occasion to insist she say "May I be excused?" she now refuses to say any phrase that includes the word excuse.  Bye-bye spoken manners for a few more months. 

My imp

I see the Family Meal as a special time.  It is a bastion of culture in our easy-going society.  There are generally expected rules of decorum, which, even if you violate them from time to time, you probably wouldn't if "company" were there, or at least if you were having a "special meal" of some kind.  At the very least, you probably have a vague idea of what I write.

Sorry this is so blurry—hand-me-down iPhone and all.  It's the outdoor chapel area at my in-laws' church in Ohio.

It is also one area of life that I feel like I have mastered.  I can cook.  I can set a table properly. (And I usually make an effort to—more often than I think sometimes, because my three-year-old surprised me this morning by getting her own silverware and putting them in the proper places!  Score one for Mom.)  And honestly, I don't have to think about it the way I do cleaning up the kitchen or doing the laundry.  My Mom is a great cook and always puts dinner on the table, and I can't imagine life any other way.  (Thanks, Mom!)

Just what is so funny to this child?  She usually has this expression on her face.

Don't misunderstand: (1) I do put a lot of thought into it and (2) I am certainly not perfect, nor do we have six-course meals every night (some days, more than one dish at the meal is just too much).  But I plan menus, pour over cookbooks, and have many opinions on the Weekly Menu idea.  I also, start cooking too late, neglect my crying baby who wants to nurse now in order to finish cooking a dish (he can eat when the rest of us do, right?  Well, sometimes....), etc.  I don't have some streamlined, very clean, elegantly running kitchen.  But dinner always manages to happen.  (Can't say the same for cleaning up the kitchen or laundry, although, now that I think about it, those things happen often enough that I need to stop beating myself up over it.)

Don't blink. Don't even blink.

Back to my kids sitting at the table.  Up until the very recent past, it was enough effort for me to get them to try something on their plates that I wasn't about to worry too much about how long they sat at the table.  They are five, three, and six months, after all.  However, if I want to get them to sit there sometime in the future, it follows that I do have to start sometime in the present.

My husband had a thought (he's clever about things like this).  What if we had them stay until most of us are done eating (let's be honest here: I'm the one who takes the longest—and of course we're not going to expect them to stay as long as us boring adults keep talking) and then we sing a hymn or prayer and let them go?  Andrew had gotten in the habit of doing this in the St. Tikhon's Seminary dining hall.  Once most people are finished, they stand and sing a hymn of thanksgiving.  We could do the same thing, and we had just the hymn to use.

Sometime back, Andrew's father composed a table grace to use at family meals.  Our brother-in-law set it to a familiar western hymn and typed it up.  Conveniently, we have a framed copy hanging in our dining room.  Once in a great while, it has gotten used as our family's prayer before the meal. 

We prepared the kids during some meal (might have been something as boring as a weekday lunch), telling them we wanted to sing a song when we were finished, so they needed to stay at the table until then.  There was very little resistance.  They like to sing, so they were intrigued.  Once the meal was finished, we stood, faced the framed sheet music, and sang.  We repeated the performance at dinner.

The simply worded hymn was a hit!  The kids even began singing it to themselves during the day.  For some reason, they think they need to stand on their chairs to sing it. (It is probably because Maggie wants to see the music, but Susannah just does it—and it makes me giggle to think of some stranger looking in at our post-dinner ritual of standing on our chairs and singing.  Maybe I'm imagining the adults doing it too.)  Now they have even started reminding us that we need to sing!

We don't always remember to do it, but any time the kids are wandering off well before the rest of us are finished eating, we casually remind them that they need to stay until we sing, and they come right back.  There might have been the occasional "I-don't-wanna" but it has been minimal and relatively subdued.  And they are getting the idea that we stay at the table together for a meal.  We don't stuff our faces and run off with a mouthful of food.  (Although, at one time, I considered sitting at the table just long enough to stuff their faces an accomplishment.  Progress, not perfection.)

I'm finding with this and some other behavioral things, that it's easier to wait a little longer than I'd like for my eldest to get these concepts.  If I wait just long enough for her little sister to catch up, I'm not singling out Maggie.  Instead, I am just showing the kids what their responsibility is.  Of course their standards won't be adult standards; they will be tailored to fit children.  But they will be on the spectrum of forming them into adults.  And it won't be a huge surprise later.

Kishler Family Table Prayer
(to the tune of Immortal, Invisible)
We thank thee, Dear Father, from heaven above
For Thy goodness, Thy mercy, Thy kindness, and love.
We thank Thee for family and friends so dear,
And all of the blessings that we enjoy here.
© Robert Kishler, 2000

The Author, Grandpa Kishler, with the latest grandkids (not both mine—could you imagine??)

Please see Leila's post The Reasonably Clean Kitchen starts with rules for the kids for more great ideas on this general theme!


  1. Nice. Yep, balance, progress NOT perfection. A few months back I was talking with a priest who was visiting the area and he commented that usually perfectionist things are a sign of pride. yikes. hits home with me! :) I think it is really good that you are seeking reasonable balances and that you value the dinner time with your family. I totally agree that eatting as a family at dinner esp. is really important not only for one's family but for the society at large.

    Blessings on the Nativity fast and season!

    ps - loved all the pictures. way too cute :)

  2. We have be fortunate in that we don't have to force our kids to stay at the table. It just hasn't been an issue. That isn't to say that we aren't constantly telling them to sit on their bottoms :) They are energetic, wiggly kids, so it takes a lot to get them to actually sit probably and eat. But we insist upon it, and they do it.

    I was thinking just this morning, before I read your post, that I need to get the children in the habit of clearing their dishes after they are done eating. They oldest are definitely big enough to do this. This especially applies to breakfast and lunch, which we do not always eat together or if we do, I am usually finishing quickly so that I can get something done while they are occupied.

    I think it is good to expect a lot from children, but to give them LOTS of grace. Explain what is expected, but don't punish them or embarrass them if they don't do it or if they forget. I was raised with very formal manners, and I appreciate that about my parents. They gave us the freedom that children need, but encouraged us to behave properly, especially when at the table.

  3. Thanks for the link!
    I love your post. I love that families have their own sweet ways of getting to where they want to be, and yours is very sweet indeed.
    Saying grace at the end of the meal is a very old tradition. Even my Moslem father would say "Thanks be to God" in Arabic at the end of the meal.
    We never got into that habit but I wish we had! Good work on your tradition.

  4. Wait, I think you and Andrew SHOULD stand on your chairs!!! The thought makes me smile, too.

  5. sometimes when I set a nice dinner down on the table for my family I literally think "wow, I did it again!" lol Life can be so hectic with little ones. I remind myself not to compare with others (we all learn and grow at our own pace) and that kids learn mostly by example. Parents who are polite and have good table manners will rub off on their kids...eventually! (I hope) ;)

  6. I liked this. We've gotten lax about saying the post-meal prayer. I need to get that going again.

    I can relate to the wriggly-child syndrome too. The boys especially don't want to actually "sit like they're going to stay". Part of them is touching the chair and the rest is poised for take-off! I think we've gotten as far as "pass this please" and napkins in laps but it's hard to expect a whole lot with such an age range. I do have the girls clear the table after dinner. It's a big help. Of course, they're older than yours too.

    Good luck!

  7. Thanks for writing Patty. I always enjoy it.

  8. Elizabeth, thanks for your comments. Blessings to you too!

    Michelle M., I think you're right about lots of expectations and lots of grace. Well put. We also have them take their dishes to the kitchen after we sing. I don't remember if I wrote that.

    Leila, of course! Thanks for stopping by!

    Michelle D., you can come over and we'll stand on our chairs for you. :P

    Jodie Anna, I have that exact thought about bedtime. "Wow. I did it again. I can't believe I've gotten everyone to bed every night for over five years now!"

    Matushka Anna, that's EXACTLY how Maggie sits! Half her bottom is on the chair, sort of "sitting," and the other leg is standing! People tell me I don't know what it's like to have a boy, but with Maggie, sometimes I think I already know! For some reason, "napkins in laps" elicits screams of discomfort and protest, so we haven't insisted on that one yet! The girls help clear the table as much as they can, and just having them with me helps me not to feel so much like the family slave. ;)


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