When I was a kid, getting to go out for a restaurant meal was usually a special occasion. Either that, or it was Wednesday night pizza night after soccer practice. Either way, it was something to look forward to, and something that’s somehow carried over into my own family in capital letters. In my mind, it’s Family Restaurant Night. Kind of like Family Movie Night, or Family Game Night.
This week, we’ve all been a little sick, and as a result a little cranky. So last night, when I opened our refrigerator and found only things that turned my stomach, I voted to go out to eat.
After entering and promptly leaving one place because of the hit-you-in-the-face rotten smell, we landed at one of our old standbys, a Mexican food place that makes their own tortillas. Yum. So far, so good…I can order a strawberry margarita while enjoying time with my husband and son.
Actually No, Family Restaurant Night is NOT My Idea of a Good Time!
About halfway through the meal, it started to go south. I didn’t order that margarita because I wasn’t feeling too good. Then, my son’s meal came, and it had (gasp!) vegetables instead of french fries – which was exactly what I ordered him because this kid can inhale carbs but he’s always a little low on the healthy stuff.
So we started the standard battle, no-you-can’t-eat-your-main-course-until-you-eat-your-vegetables, or maybe you-won’t-get-dessert-unless-you-eat-your-vegetables. Because this is EXACTLY what I want to be doing with my evening; only this time in public, a forum we don’t normally get to play in. Then, we started with the spitting-it-out-its-gross and then bouncing dramatically ALL. OVER. THE. SEAT. None of which was helping my pre-existing nausea. Next came 15 renditions of oh-dear-God-please-stop-bouncing, following by a much more emphatic STOP. FREAKING. BOUNCING!
All of which had me swearing that we wouldn’t go out to eat again as a family until…maybe when he’s 10. No….15.
Of course, he’d behave absolutely perfectly if we simply gave in and let him take the iPad with him to dinner. We do that only on exceedingly rare occasions because I think social skills outweigh gaming skills on the things-to-teach-your-children scale.
He hadn’t actually been bad, though, at dinner. He’d really just been a six-year-old, whose energy and inquisitiveness lead him to bounce everywhere. But my patience, as well as my joy in spending time with my family, was at a low point.
So what did we do? Well, while my son buckled himself into his seat, hubby and I took a few minutes to vent outside the car. And vent I did; I soon had my husband laughing so hard his eyes were watering.
Actually, that’s where this post originated, in the parking lot of our favorite Mexican restaurant. And just like that, I felt like ME again.
Because really, my resentment and crankiness had nothing to do with anything my son was doing. I was sick, for one, so my patience was already low. But mostly, I was annoyed because instead of being able to enjoy my meal, I was playing the amazing role of the nag. Nag to eat your vegetables, nag to stop bouncing, nag to wipe your face.
What I wasn’t doing was spending any time actually enjoying my meal. Or, for that matter, the time with my family.
If it Stinks, Why Do We Do it?
Somewhere in my head, Family Restaurant Night is a pre-requisite for happy families. After all, it worked for my parents, why wouldn’t it work for me? It took me getting so frazzled last night that I was ready to pull my hair out before it occurred to me…if this doesn’t work for us, why do it?
If I think about what I would want quality family time to look like, that’s not it. I want our quality time to involve meaningful conversation, learning and growth opportunities, and exploration. If there’s physical activity involved, better yet.
Sometimes, though, it’s so ingrained in us that we can’t see the most obvious things. So, it’s official – I’m quitting Family Restaurant Night, at least for now, while he’s six. Maybe when he’s older, it will be completely different.
And you know what? I’m also quitting Family Movie Night. The last two times we’ve done this, we’ve made popcorn, spent 30 minutes picking out a movie that everyone will want to watch, and then promptly had most of the family disperse or completely cease paying any attention to the movie. Perhaps we need to modify Family Movie Night to be in an actual theater because everyone does seem to pay attention then. But at home, where a toy, or a cell phone, or whatever else can so easily distract? It just doesn’t work. And it leaves me, more often than not, sitting by myself watching a movie I never wanted to watch in the first place.
What to Keep, and What to Abandon
For now, I’m making a conscious decision to keep the family traditions that:
- We love
- Make sense for our family
- Bring us closer together
As for the rest, they can stay in my amazing memories of my childhood, but they might not work for us!
Next time you find your frustration level rising, ask yourself whether you really love whatever you’re doing at the moment. Can you mix it up to reduce frustration? And are you doing whatever in a certain way because it’s the way you think it’s supposed to be done? Could it be done in a less frazzling way, or abandoned entirely?
Simplifying your life is key to making room for your dreams and your passion. And keeping family traditions alive just because they’re a tradition? That’s just adding complication.
What family traditions are you doing just because you think you should? Comment below!