How Do You Deal With Dinnertime Distractions?

posted by Andrea | 09/15/2012

{this is where we’ve been eating during our kitchen renovation}

Before our kitchen renovation, Dave and I ate almost every meal at the dining room table. The only exceptions would be if we had people over and the table was too small or on “special” occasions when there was a really good sporting event that Dave just HAD to watch :)

However, even though we are fairly diligent about sitting together at the table to eat, we still seem to have an awful lot of distractions and interruptions. Either someone is knocking at our door, one of us is getting a phone call, or someone spills.  Then Nora has a temper-tantrum, a blow-out diaper, or she decides that she really doesn’t want to be in her high chair.  By that time, the food is cold or one person is done eating way ahead of the other person.

I’m sure you can relate!

And now that school has started, and Nora is getting older, I assume the distractions and interruptions will get even worse.

Dave and I have tried to say “no distractions” but when our dining room windows are RIGHT next to the front door, it’s kind of hard to pretend no one is home when visitors or sales people come knocking! And you also know how difficult it is to get rid of people (especially persistant sales people).

So today, I’d love to know…

How do you deal with dinnertime distractions?

Do you have a rule or policy? Do you have a “punishment” if someone breaks the rules?

Do you have certain times when you eat all together at the table (and don’t allow distractions) and then other times when you eat at the island, in the living room, in your car, or in front of your computer ? :)

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19 comments

  1. Shannon

    09/15/2012

    I grew up with the rule that no one answers the phone and the TV is off during dinner. There are very few phone calls that will be important enough to disrupt your family during dinner if family dinner is important to your family. As a society I think we are so connected (phones on our persons most of the time and emails available on those phones) that we have really forgotten what it means to be with the people we are with. I’m so guilty of this but try my best to have blocked off times… family dinner would be one of those times.
    As for people that come to the door, you can ignore people you don’t know. If they continue to knock, etc. simply go to the door at which time they will probably let you know right away that they are a salesperson at which time you simply tell them that you are having dinner and (this is the most important part) ask them for any materials that you can look over. Most of the time they will either be glad to hand you a pamphlet or they will leave. If you have friends that are dropping by during dinner, let them know that dinner time is very important to you and ask them to come by another time. They should be respectful.
    We’ve been doing these things for a while now and it is so helpful! It took the people-pleaser in me a little bit of time to get used to it but it so much better for the family!
    Thank you for your honesty and humble spirit!

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  2. Jenny C.

    09/15/2012

    Recently one of my neighbors put a “No Soliciting” sign on her door because our area gets frequent salespeople – maybe an idea to consider. Good luck!

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  3. Margo

    09/15/2012

    A “No Soliciting” sign on the door works most of the time with sales people, if you feel you must answer the door point to the sign, tell them you are not interested and close the door. Let others know you would prefer if they called before coming over.

    We take the phone off the hook or let it ring.

    If an older child has a temper tantrum he/she is instructed to sit still and be quiet. Babies tantrums are ignored. If your sure nothing is terribly wrong just let her fuss, it might get a little loud but she will get over it and unless Nora is capable of getting out of chair on her own leave her in it until you are finished eating.

    The only distractions that are dealt with are diaper blow-outs. Good luck.

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    Emily Reply:

    I agree! Our 4 & 6 year old were taught at a young age that temper tantrums are not a way to get what you want. We try hard to be very diligent with this! Our church really encourages hospitality so we share meals often with other families. It’s fun and great to spend time with people and because we’re training our kids they know what is expected of them at the dinner table.

    We also ignore our phones (turn the ringer down or silence them). Thankfully we don’t get many sales people.

    Right now we’re dealing with a nursing baby who usually wants to eat when mama does. But soon he’ll be at the table with us! :)

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  4. Carrie

    09/15/2012

    We don’t answer the phone during supper and there is a “no soliciting” sign on our front door.

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  5. Stephanie

    09/15/2012

    Family dinner time is just that – dinner at the table – as a family. No phones or doors being answered.

    The real question for me is how do you deal with distractions when you go OUT for dinner? This isn’t a problem with my family, but with friends. I just can not deal with the fact that some people need to check their phones every few minutes – texts, emails, calls, etc. Is it me, or is it just totally rude when the friend you are with is checking their phone? Maybe I’m just high maintenance? That’s the number 2 reason why I don’t have texting on my phone! (#1 reason is that we are too cheap!)

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  6. Stel

    09/15/2012

    I try not to get too stressed.
    My husband’s job requires him to be available per phone 24 hrs and often he’d be late, returning from a mine. WIth two boys of 4 and 8, I try to keep it relaxed, I’d learned the hard way know that forcing them is just as bad for all of our sanity. Usually they’re good, and our dinners are quick. More than often, breakfast would be our family meal.
    A good tip I got from a friend who’s daughter didn’t want to eat dinner, was to ask her to sit with them, because they still want to enjoy her company, even if she doesn’t eat…and lo and behold, she finished dinner as well.
    I ignore the phone, hubby can’t, and I ignore the belll as well – our property is fenced and the kitchen at the other side of the house.

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  7. Jeanine

    09/15/2012

    When our kids were little, at least once a week we would feed them and put them to bed, then have dinner by ourselves – a date night at home! As the days get shorter, it will be dark when you eat, so hopefully no one will be knocking on your door. On the other hand, you might want to have shades that close so no one will see you:). With little ones, it’s pretty impossible not to have distractions at the dinner table, so dinner alone with your husband once in awhile is a good compromise, I think. Hope this helps!

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  8. Christina

    09/15/2012

    We totally have a table RIGHT at the front porch/door, so over the last 10 years, we simply tell all (neighbors, little friends looking to play, and salespeople) this is ‘family time.’ Period. We have a no phone policy as well. We have teenagers in the mix, and for that one hour, it’s time to talk together, not text. Frankly, it’s one of the times they really open up about their days and that time is too precious to listen to a salesperson, or even a neighbor. I choose to stay home with my children, so they get the time I have very dilbertly set aside for them, not someone else who randomly shows up. We all have our own choices and time for what we choose. Don’t feel guilty about it, embrace it! It’s YOUR life!

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  9. Liz C

    09/15/2012

    Caller ID has been a huge help; we don’t answer our phone unless we’re free to talk (and mealtime isn’t that time!), but the Caller ID lets us know if it’s a call we can’t miss (such as from a dear friend who has a child in the hospital–I’ll take that call no matter what!). Paired with voice mail, the interruptions are few.

    I don’t buy things from door-to-door sales. So, with the No Solicitations or Sales sign, I feel free to not answer the door, of if I do answer, I smile and say, “We’re not interested, thanks.” and shut the door.

    With our kids, we do have the “you don’t have to eat, you do get to be sociable” for any child who is not ill/napping. No phones, etc are allowed at the table, because it’s family social time.

    And going out? If I’m out with others, and they feel the need to be constantly texting/chatting etc with other people (not with us), I have chosen to end the evening early, and to not go out with that set of people again. It’s rude to be so very divided–those aren’t distractions, they’re poor choices.

    Guard that dinner time. Obstacles within the family can be tolerated and changed over time, but guard it from outside interruptions as far as you can. It’s a really GOOD time for families! Our little 4.5yo is the one who, if we’ve had too many distractions in the week, says, “WE NEED A FAMILY DINNER!” and she’s right! Sitting down together and visiting always helps our family harmony.

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    Karen Reply:

    I agree with every single word. 100%. I would add the sole exception to the companions constantly on the phone, would be someone who, as part of their employment, must be on call to deal with true emergencies.

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  10. Patty@homemakersdaily.com

    09/15/2012

    When the kids were home, we ate at the dinner table 99% of the time. We didn’t answer the phone ever. We hardly ever had anybody at the door so that wasn’t a problem. If someone knocked, we would have answered, though. Once in a while we ate in front of the tv. It had to be a special situation, though. Dinner time was our favorite time of the day. At dinner we talked and laughed and talked and laughed. It was just such a fun time! But some of those interruptions are things you laugh about later. So I wouldn’t stress. Just do the best you can and don’t worry about it. Nora’s still pretty small so dinner will get better. When my grandkids are over (3 and 1-1/2) it’s pretty wild. But that’s part of the fun. Dinnertime should be fun!

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  11. Carla Jo

    09/15/2012

    When my husband and I had our daughter (will be 3 in November) we decided to start eating at the table for dinner as a family. It took about a year before we actually did it, but now we are great about eating at the table about 5 days a week. We rarely have uninvited visitors to interrupt dinner, BUT I did have a friend growing up whose family put a nice note on the door EVERY night when eating dinner that said “We are eating dinner, please either wait until we are finished or please come back in a little while. God Bless.” This would be extreme to me, but since we don’t have visitors I can’t really relate to this distraction. But when my husband and I sit down to dinner with our daughter we turn off the TV (you can see if from the dining table) and leave our cell phones, iPads, and computers off and do not answer them, unless there is an extenuating circumstance (my husband is military and sometimes must answer his phone if it rings). We also engage our daughter, talk about her day, our food, what she wants for Christmas, etc. And although the conversation sometimes means our food is cold by the time we eat it, it is worth it. We also get up from the table all together (except nights when my daughter needs some extra alone time to finish her food).

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  12. Liz

    09/16/2012

    I find that as my daughter got older our definition of “dinner time” has gotten more loose. We have always felt that having a meal together as a family is VERY important. It’s a time to talk and negotiate, unravel the day and create some good memories…

    So sometimes, dinner is really at breakfast, or lunch between soccer games….or snacks on the fly. The important thing is that we continue to gather as a family, eat and talk.

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  13. Homemommy

    09/17/2012

    I know you’re not going to like this answer, but here’s the truth: your life will NEVER be the same now that you have a baby. So, relax and enjoy your new normal. Comparing what happens now to how it used to be, will only lead you to be frustrated. Remembering your simple, peaceful, uninterrupted meals and wondering how you can get those back is just a recipe for anxiety. As soon as Nora is able to sit quietly through a meal – here comes baby #2 and you’re back to chaos. It’s OK!!! Welcome to your new normal.

    It’s necessary to try to block out distractions and have quality face time with family, but when it doesn’t happen – just roll with it! Pretty soon you’ll learn to continue the conversation where you left off before the distraction occurred.

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  14. Crystal

    09/17/2012

    I found it helpful when my two were Nora’s age to have one parent finish meal prep while the other feeds baby, then move baby to a baby friendly activity, like banging pots and pans with a spoon, or some other activity that ONLY is allowed while mom and pop eat. There’s always a Praise Baby DVD. Then you can catch your breath and taste your food. Soon enough she’ll join you better. Blow outs won’t last forever! Just remember to allow yourself lots of grace and KEEP. IT. SIMPLE. Best of luck!

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  15. Kadi

    09/19/2012

    We always eat dinner together. I feel that it is important. I know when my children were Nora’s age either my husband or were always eating a cold meal and I really dislike cold food. We tried feeding the kids early and eat after they went to bed, but it was hard for us to go that long without food. So we typically follow a few rules.
    1. I do not allow phones at the table or answering phones during dinner. (This is primarily for my husband.)
    2. We do not allow goofing off at the table. The kids are allowed to talk about their day, but we do not want to see feet on the table (trust me it has happened) or other activities (such as watching a movie on the iPad – yes that has happened too).
    3. If you finish before everyone else then you sit at the table until we are all finished.
    Other than that we do not worry about distractions. Your children will begin to follow your lead. My children know that they have to pray before they eat their food. My children know that they are required to try everything, but not required to finish everything on their plate.

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  16. Five4FiveMeals

    09/20/2012

    We also have a strict no cell phones at the table, otherwise my husband would be making work calls the whole time.

    If the visitor is someone you don’t know it’s perfectly fine to NOT answer the door.

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  17. Amanda

    10/24/2012

    I have an unrelated question: where did you buy your patio set? It is beautiful!

    My family’s rule ever since I can remember is not answering the phone, or the door at dinnertime. And since I have been married, we have followed the same rule. Sitting at the table is also something that focuses family members on dinnertime. No TV. No toys. etc.

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