“How to announce the return of comfort and well-being except by cooking something fragrant. That is what her mother always did. After every calamity of any significance she would fill the atmosphere of the house with the smell of cinnamon rolls or brownies, or with chicken and dumplings, and it would mean, This house has a soul that loves us all, no matter what. ” Marilynne Robinson
We’re losing one from around our table this weekend.
I’ve been a mom for 24 years and I haven’t always known how sacred a thing it is to gather with my people around the table. This place where we feed them, listen to their stories, laugh at their jokes, and occasionally sit quiet because life with its grief and anger has gotten the best of us. This place where we teach them what it means to bow in thanks for daily bread. This place that breaks our backs because how can we possibly cook one more meal? This place where we’ve never been more aware of our shortcomings, but we just keep showing up to feed them anyway.
And then the long days turn into fast years and you face that first meal without that one you love.
In my mind, I try to avoid counting down the dinners because there’s a wall of tears that doesn’t need reminding.
Just 4 more dinners. How to say what these years have meant? How to hold such weighty things in our hands and hearts?
I remember how I’ve despised this job sometimes—the planning, the shopping, the cooking, the cleaning. Why are they always hungry every. single. day?!
I never saw the day coming that they’d go and an empty chair would leave my heart heavy.
This is no small thing what we do everyday, mamas. This meal is important. This table is sacred.
Sometimes we’re feasting and sometimes we’re just getting by but the time together around this table is changing us all.
We are so blessed by those who’ve come and gone from these chairs.
I hope you’ll linger extra long around the table tonight.
And remember that the time and effort you spend here feeding these people, with food and love, is so very special.
You are meeting your neighbor’s need in the most beautiful, life-giving way.
Bless you for your labor. It is not in vain.
And bless the ones who must leave.
We love you and it has been our privilege to share this table with you.
(I keep this quote close to me in the kitchen. It helps me remember.)
If you’re short on time for planning, let me offer this one little suggestion. Over the next month, add the meal you make for dinner to your iPhone calendar and then *repeat* it on your calendar every month. If you eat out, maybe add what you would like to have cooked for that night. (There’s no shame in your game!) A month from now, you’ll have a month’s worth of meals in your calendar and all the sudden, you’ll be a meal planning genius! I’ve got a whole meal planning series on my blog, but this little tip will get you started with almost no work!
Here’s what I’d love to know from you—what are your struggles when it comes to family dinners? Have you found any solutions that you’d share with the rest of your internet sisters?
Oh goodness, Edie! You just struck me to the core with this one. I confess that the daily meal prep is about my least favorite activity but this does put a different perspective on it.
Something that has always challenged me is that my husband is home at unpredictable times each night so its typically just the girls and I for meals. Because we’re together so much throughout the day dinner doesn’t have the “tell me about your day” vibe. It is a little easier when they are in school but how do you encourage more conversation when you’ve been together every second of the day with the littles?
Edie Wadsworth says
I know, this is hard. You feel like all the words have been said.
I think your presence is enough!
God’s grace always leads us right where we need to be…this morning your blog post pierced my heart! Thank you! So beautifully written…thank you for this important reminder about the sacred family table! I have two littles and am a stay at home mom…the daily grind wears on you and you become cynical if you’re not careful. Your blog post today woke me up…I’m so thankful for the fellowship that comes across on your blog. God bless you.
Beautifully written. I’ve struggled with mealtime since my girls were little. Now they are in 7th and 12th grade. I will have an empty chair next fall. I’m leaving your blog today with a new perspective. Thank you!
Edie Wadsworth says
Tiffany B says
Love your post Edie, as usual it cuts right to my heart and soul. My struggle with family dinners is that my 3 teenagers are running in different directions at all times of the day. With school, sports and work schedules it is next to impossible to gather at the same time and have everyone present. Sunday dinners I can pretty much count on – the other 6 days, not so much… Have a wonderful week!
Edie Wadsworth says
I know! Those are hard and precious years.
You’re doing great, mama!
Holly C. says
Beautiful words! Our oldest has one year left of high school, and then. . . the possibilities are exciting, and yet. . .
I am a bit ashamed to say eating around the table is a difficult thing, but the main struggle is finding enough variety that everyone would enjoy. Though my girls just tried goat on their mission trip to the city last week – and they both said they really liked it! Maybe I need to try different things? 🙂
Oh Edie, this post was so precious! I, too, have been a mother for twenty-four years! And this summer has been tough, as my college son is away for an all-important internship. I feel the loss. I am hoping it will make those precious moments when we are all together again that much sweeter. We had family in town this weekend, and one of our conversation starters was this: If you could create a magazine, what would you name it? We came up with the perfect name: Kitchen Table. It is where so much of life takes place! We enjoyed a lot of sight-seeing, but it was the time around the table that we will remember.
Missy Robinson says
We are a blended family and our seating varies weekly with parenting plans and children living between two homes. We are keenly aware of the empty seats around our table and it is a painful reality that we all accept. However, the ones who gather often talk about the ones not present and each one still part of our family rhythm.
As mother/wife/stepmom, the duty falls to me to plan, shop and prepare our meals. Accommodating the tastes of seven individuals from differing family menu styles has been an enormous challenge, and yet it is one that helps me know my tribe better. Now I can usually tell who prefers no tomatoes on their salad, who loves black beans and who will pass on the pineapple chunks.
Our greatest struggle is time. Preparation and cleanup can be so tiring. We are late diners and the little children need to be put to bed, the older ones disappear before conscription to duty. It’s easy to resent the work, but I’m counting on the memories to make it all worthwhile.
Edie Wadsworth says
OH, I so hear you, Missy. I resent it too sometimes.
But I love this rhythm of family suppers so I keep showing up, doing what I can to make it a little more enjoyable. (planning, podcasts, etc)
Okay, well, I’m not sure whether I technically just bawled or sobbed. Either way that was instant tears for me. But I’m okay with that! Well timed reminder for me, Edie. My brother is right this very minute moving his first born to her first dorm room. My twins started 6th grade yesterday. Seven more school years. Just seven. Prayers and hugs for you and your ‘little’ one flying off.
Uncomplicated is best. Grilled meat and roasted vegetables are my go to menu items. I love to make homemade soups that can be reheated on busy days. Simple salads with mixed greens, chopped eggs, bacon, tomatoes and dressing are easy – served with fresh bread. I often buy frozen bread/roll dough and make a loaf or two at a time. I must say being flexible helps – I’ve learned to roll with it after 33 years of being a wife and a mom and being the one everybody looks to when they are “staaaarving”!
Edie, this post resonated with me so much. I am no chef, I do not like to cook. But I do like to feed my family healthy meals, so I have accepted this daily task as a necessary evil. And a privilege, many moms I know work too late to be able to do what I can do almost every day for my family, and for this privilege I am grateful. My boys are five and seven and not a day goes by that I do not think how much I will miss them when they have moved on, even when I am mentally happy dancing when I drop them off at school:)
Leigh Anne says
Oh, this made me cry. I used to love cooking for my family but it’s just become another chore somehow. My husband cooks a couple time during the week too. Every evening during the week we eat dinner at the dining room table with all three of our kids (12,10 & 4). And without fail there is bickering, attitudes and discontent. What am I doing wrong is what I ask myself every day.
Edie Wadsworth says
You are not doing a thing wrong, Leigh Anne.
Those are just the stages of life.
Ours happen to be older enough (and not together all day) that we’ve passed the harder phases.
Take heart. All your love and effort will not be in vain.
Sending you lots of love.
Edie, your words always bless me so! As you’ve seen on my IG account, cooking and food is my passion. It is rare I don’t go a single day without posting my plate. Is it annoying to dome? Maybe…but it’s what I do. The kitchen is the central hot spot of my home. My daughters are at a very impressionable age and I want them seated at our table understanding the importance of a family meal. Are some days hard? Yes. Do I ever feel like not cooking? Oh my yes! Do I love and treasure it to see faces delight with each bite? Absolutely.
I think a struggle of mine might be coming up with new meal ideas. We can have a freezer and pantry full of food, but get in a rut. Ahhh…breakfast for supper…again. 😉
My struggle is that my people don’t want to sit at the table so either I end up fixing sandwiches or the meal I’ve prepared is eaten in front of the TV!
Thank you for this post. Meal time is a struggle around here, for sure. My husband has started a new job and his hours are unpredictable right now. Meal time is often me and my elementary aged kids. I read your series about meal planning and I have started that plan. Hoping it sticks as school starts back in a few weeks.
I dread dinner some days so your perspective was much needed today. I always find so much encouragement and wisdom here, Edie.
I would love to hear suggestions for conversation with young kids. As another person said, I am with them all day in the summer and highs/lows turns into an “I don’t want to go first” battle almost every time. Clearly they don’t enjoy it so we stopped asking those questions for now.
Edie Wadsworth says
We don’t do questions much either.
We’ve been parents a long time and you gotta pace yourself!
The older they get, seems like we mostly listen.
My dad passed away 3 1/2 years ago. He came home from the hospital on hospice so we knew our time was limited. We were blessed with three last meals with him before the Lord graciously took him home. My family and my two brothers’ families, as well as my dad’s 91 year old mother met around my parent’s dining table with my dad at the head and my mom at his side. There were a total of 10 adults and 11 children partaking what would be the last of our meals together as a complete family. Dad left an empty spot at the table and in our hearts but the many years of meals together are priceless memories. Thank you for reminding me to be grateful for those hungry people I serve everyday because they will be missed when their chair is empty.
I understand, with two of us now all our birds have flown and our nest is empty. That is until I cook for the whole gang, 14 in all and what a wonderful time we have. It is hard to fix food for 2 when you are used to feeding so many more, but we enjoy our empty nest, most days. Enjoy the time you have even if it is PB&J Sandwiches. Thanks for reminding me of the joy of the family.
Rebecca D says
Reading this post became harder and harder as tears stream down my face… I read this after we finished the “last” meal with my youngest. We leave in the morning to take her to college on the other side of the country… I know this isn’t out LAST meal but by experience I have learned they will never be the same again… She will come back in a few months a little bit different and that will be the pattern. My husband suggested removing the leaf from our table to have more floor space and I think I cried for an hour. I didn’t think I’d be this kind of mother… Roots and wings and all sounds good until they start using those wings.
My struggle is that I work a full time job outside the home so by the time I get home I just want to rest for a few minutes. I love to cook. We always have extra kids at our house and they always stay for dinner. I love all the conversations between everyone around the table long after the meal is done. This makes it all worth it.
My husband and I had quite a few years alone when our grown children moved away for college and jobs. Our daughter returned to the area 7 years ago and our son moved back just a few months ago after being away for 15 years. While they don’t live with us, our table is full again with their spouses and our beautiful wee grand daughters. We sit at our table for hours eating, talking and laughing and it is the best! It’s so wonderful when they come home again! We are truly blessed. Thanks for sharing!
Sandy Grammer says
Nan, that is so wonderful! My oldest 3 daughters are married and gone, one son is not living at home, and I am down to “only the five of us left.” Funny how it seems so empty with only 5 to feed! But you are right–the times when everyone is back together again, and the blessing of grandbabies just multiplies the love and happiness around the table.
Sherri Len says
Ladies of young ones: make this a priority for your family – meals together are glue for you all. Maybe not every night, especially when school is in session. Have a short calendar session on Sunday – then do your best to keep as many meals together as possible! If your kids are able/older, have a “kids cook/mom is off” night: they plan it, (you’ll have to make sure you have everything available), they cook it, they clean it. We did this, and yes, it was a pain at first, but they get into the groove of it…and they are proud of their efforts and you will be too! (And both of my kids are good cooks today!) The last few years of kids at home introduced a new rule: whoever cooks, doesn’t set foot in the kitchen after the meal is over…someone else cleans, even if it means Dad! I loved it!! 🙂 Take it easy on yourselves, ladies….a bowl of soup and a loaf of bread is sufficient. Be creative. Introduce your kids to cooking – even if what you are served is questionable at first. TIME with your family is what is important. So very important…I say this as my baby goes back to school this Saturday after only 3 1/2 weeks at home this summer.
Oh how I remember those times…meals around our table with our two children. We had dinner together every night. And then the first one left for collage & I cried for weeks leading up to that time & weeks after. You do adjust, eventually. Then the second left and it was just the two of us…just the way we started out. I must say that although I miss those times, this season is very special also. We share the cooking and it is fun to be just the two of us. Fortunately, our children live near and we benefit from many fun meals with the adults and our beautiful grandchildren. God’s plan is wonderful.
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Our table of four is now a table of two. My youngest son just bought a house and will be getting married in September . Tears do come with the empty chair but they know they will always have a place at moms table.
Sara M. says
I cried through this entire post. My husband was transferred to TN with the promise that he would never travel again. He now lives and works in China. I see him three times a year for a month at a time. We eat and talk and eat and talk the whole time we are together! I gained ten pounds during his last visit and I don’t care one bit! Next trip home is in December! I miss cooking and watching him eat!!
Sarah Lahrman says
I am a mom to 3 littles (10, 7, and 3) and like so many moms, I sometimes dread meal planning – mainly due to the lack of variety of foods my kiddos are willing to eat. Only 1 child is willing to at least try new things – the old 2 look horrified if something “new” ends up on their plates. I have succumbed to fixing the same things over and over just so my husband and I don’t have to listen to whining and most of the dinner left untouched. I feel like I sound lazy as I type this… Nevertheless, we make a point to always sit at the table as a family and that itself is meaningful to me.
A year ago, I made Friday night “Cereal Night” at our house as my one night free of cooking. Our kiddos look forward to it and I feel no shame in the matter ;). I have also found Pinterest to be a great resource for recipes (especially the fix and freeze meals which are great now that the kiddos are back in school). I of course have to weed out the ones I know my kiddos would frown upon but it has helped this mama!
Beautiful post, beautiful perspective. I LOVE family meal time. I love it when it’s just the three of us, and I love it when we have company. Menu planning, cooking and feeding my family is my love language. When I don’t cook, I feel deprived.
This Summer, our meals have been very simple and light…we were on a sandwich kick for a while after seeing the movie Chef, particularly the Cuban sandwich. In fact, I’m planning to make it again tomorrow. We’ve also been doing a lot of cereal, frozen pizzas, Chick fil a. I got one shrimp boil in and need to have another one soon…it’s always been my favorite! So much so that my friends hosted a big ole shrimp boil for my 40th birthday ( six years ago.)
I was feeling guilty for not cooking traditional meals this Summer, but I think I’m ( almost) over the guilt. I’ll be getting my groove back in a couple of weeks.
Great post! We are packing today to take our daughter back to college tomorrow, so tonight will be our meal together. Our son has moved away also, but came home to visit a couple of weeks ago. We’ve had some good meals together, but our struggle is timing.
Everyone always wants to eat a different times. Some, like me , prefer early meals. The college gal wants a late breakfast, but early dinner. My husband thinks later is better. We end up arguing more over WHEN is dinner that What’s for Dinner!!
Edie Wadsworth says
I LOVE the Marilynne Robinson quote. I wasn’t familiar with her writing, so just looked her up & added several books to my Amazon wishlist. Do you have any favorites? The quote reminds me so much of my own grandmother, who was the most influential person in my life. We were a BIG family growing up & lived together every summer. She poured love & good cooking on us – even more so when we were getting into trouble. A treasured example of grace. My 3 20-somethings have all left the nest permanently these last 2 years. I well remember “counting down the dinners” days. Times when we can all be together now are all the more sweeter. I just loved this post Edie.
Edie Wadsworth says
Well, you’re in for a treat! I’ve read Gilead, Home, and have Housekeeping in my cart!
LOVE her writing so much.
…be brave… carve all your initials in the table where you each sit…that is what we did…and should one marry…have the new family member carve their’s…next to the one who brought them into the family…and then!…when there are grandchildren…carve their NAMES in the table…of all my tangible possessions…my table is the one i love most…blessings laney
Edie Wadsworth says
Thank you for this beautiful perspective. Your words once again perfectly describe the sacred gathering at the table. And like so many things we don’t realize the importance until it is gone. The places becoming empty happened much quicker than I realized they would. I myself am grateful for the new faces that gathering around our table now and the grand-babies that make each day new.
Edie Wadsworth says
Sounds like a dreamy stage—can’t wait for that!!
thank you so much for this. i am on the ‘home stretch” with my little wonders also…i get very weepy, thinking of releasing them to the world full time. …..mothers do like to have them all gathered together and safe. my prayer life lately is FULL of petitions for the future! in the meantime, i will feed them and take joy in each moment.
Edie Wadsworth says
Right there with you, sister!
Stacey Meredith says
Pre-planning, getting to the grocery, busyness or laziness or craziness…. are my problems right now. I love your idea about adding meals to the calendar and choosing repeat. How nice it would be to have dinner ideas a month from now for a month.
I really really really want to have a meal plan so my family can have time together, so we can not feel rushed, so Mama feels more “together”, so we can save money… but I almost feel crippled when I start to think about meal planning!
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i didn’t cry when jordan left until i set my table for the next meal, and realized there was now no need to drag the fifth chair to the kitchen table. xo