The dinnertime dilemma

For my entire married life (all seven plus years of it) my husband has had an erratic schedule. Over the years, we developed a system where he would call me when he was ready to head home so I would know when to expect him.

The range, on days when he worked a “normal” shift of eight in the morning to seven at night, varied considerably. Some evenings he would come home early, maybe around five. Other evenings his shift could stretch on past eight.

Throw in the overnight shifts and the afternoon shifts and the midday shifts, and the only thing I could rely on for scheduling my day is that anything could happen.

His new job (which he’ll be starting after his brother’s wedding this week), promises more stability in the scheduling part of our lives.

Hooray!  But now, a new strategy needs developing. 

Let’s say he works until five, and then goes to learn and daven mincha- the afternoon prayers- after work. Right now, mincha is around 6ish. Or 7:30. I prefer he davens the earlier one because the other time is smack dab in the middle of bedtime.

But if he comes home around 6:30, the kids have already eaten (usually around six, maybe. Sometimes) and are running around like crazy people.

I’d like to start getting them ready for sleep at that point, but I’d also like to see my husband, and spend time with him while he eats dinner. And I’d like to eat dinner like a mentsch, too, if at all possible (usually that doesn’t happen while the kids eat dinner).   My wise readers, how would you suggest I orchestrate this time of day?  I can be flexible, but I like to have a routine. I feel it is helpful for all of us.

Should I push off the kids’ dinner so we could actually have family dinner? Eat with the kids so I can start bedtime while my husband eats? Spend time with my husband while I listen to my exhausted kids expend the last of their energy in a final frenzy?

Looking forward to your advice! 

30 thoughts on “The dinnertime dilemma

  1. hubby is an avel and used to do some davening k’yachid, but NOT anymore– this whole year other than his hospitalization he’s been 3 times a day every day like clockwork— AT SHUL— but the mincha/ maariv times keep changing and it’s HARDDDDDD! Basically, most of the time, hubby is home for EITHER dinnertime or bedtime. Whenever he’s home he fully participates in whichever he’s home for. If he’s home for dinnertime, we all eat together— usually around 6:00 after therapy. If he’s home for bedtime, he helps put the kids to bed. If he gets home right at kids’ bedtime, I’d ask him to help with bedtime. Once kids are down, then he can eat. Unless bedtime at your house takes a ridiculously long time (maybe it does with kids of all ages— here, it’s a fairly quick process with just 2 kids of the same age). I eat whenever the kids eat, even if hubby isn’t home.

    1. It’s tricky with the davening, isn’t it? Bedtime is kind of a drawn out process, depending on what the baby is up to, but it’s a very set routine, so that makes it easier, in a sense.

  2. oh ps— it also helps a lot that he does kollel dirshu each morning from 6 to 7 before he davens so his main learning chunk is done by evening time. He still learns at home after the kids are in bed, but going out to learn doesn’t interfere with dinner/bed for kids. don’t know if morning learning would work for your hubby’s schedule— my hubby works a LOT less than yours— my hubby is home at 4:30. He does have a second job on sunday mornings and Monday nights, but otherwise, aside from mincha/maariv he’s home from 4:30 onward.

  3. I am a mostly solo mom – my husband travels overseas a lot, and when he is in town, he is rarely home before 7. I’ve tried many versions of an evening routine, and this works best: my oldest gets home at 4:45. I eat dinner with them around 5, as everyone is quite hungry and will willingly eat veggies and more healthy food than they would in a 6:30/7 meltdown mode dinner. Then we do homework and play till 7, then start bedtime. If my husband comes home, he helps with bedtime. After the kids are asleep, he will make his own dinner. Better he should spend the bedtime hour with them reading books and talking – he is an adult and can have a snack to hold off dinner.

    1. This is exactly the way we handled things when my kids were little. Kids really have to eat early (if they’re hungry early, which most kids are), and I’m always hungry early!

      Woohoo, I think this is my first time commenting here!

      1. My kids are hungry early and then late. I feel like I should really make a chart to see when exactly they tend to be hungry and then work with that.

        And woohoo woohoo for seeing you comment on here! Such a treat!

  4. I agree with the above comments.
    My husband comes home at various times during the week. I usually eat with my kids (and again with hubby :) so he doesn’t eat alone). It rarely happens that my husband is home for bedtime, but when he comes home then, I don’t expect him to help but it’s nice when he does.
    We like to have dinnertime when everyone and everything is calm and settled, being that it’s the best time to talk about our day and reconnect before he goes off to learning.

  5. I don’t have so much useful advice to give you, since our family has a pretty set schedule that works for us, but wouldn’t necessarily work for you (hubby home at 5:30, dinner right then, mincha after during bedtime craziness…). However, I just want to remind you that the times when mincha gets in the way of dinner/bedtime are variable, and eventually mincha will be late enough that it will interfere with neither. And there is a large chunk of the winter when it is so early that you don’t have to worry either. So, although it is very smart to work out a planned schedule, just know that if you feel like you have to compromise on one thing or the other for now, that it is a temporary compromise until mincha shifts out of the “witching hours”, and for a large part of the year, you will be able to do things more lechatchila. Good luck!

  6. We’re in a similar situation and I love the idea of families eating together but knew the kids couldn’t wait to eat dinner when daddy got home. The kids and I eat dinner around 5:00 p.m. When daddy gets home around 7:00 p.m. he’ll eat dinner and the kids will have a healthy “dessert” (yogurt, fruit, etc.) or a bedtime snack (granola bar, cheese, etc.) so at least everyone is at the table for a few minutes. After daddy finishes eating and changes from his work clothes he’ll play with the kids for a little bit while I get bedtime stuff ready. Kiddos get in pajamas/brush teeth and then daddy reads a story to everyone. He’ll then put the youngest to bed and I’ll spend one-on-one time with the older reading, doing puzzles or Legos (i.e. low key, not messy! LOL). Then it’s off to bed. Good luck trying to figure out your new normal. :-)

  7. I also like the idea of family dinner best. I assume you don’t have any other family meals, and I always found it important to have meals together regularly. Also, you’d have another adult to help you making the kids eat, well, in a decent fashion, or something close to it. Rachel H.’s version sounds interesting, too.

    1. I’m hoping that maybe when my kids are older, we’ll be able to have weekday family dinner. Right now we do have a family lunch on Shabbos, and in the winter, when Shabbos starts earlier, we do dinner and lunch as a family, which is really lovely.

      Somehow, though, I feel like I do a better job of getting the kids to eat when it’s just me and I’m not distracted by trying to talk to my husband. Ha!

  8. I would make a salad/veggie sticks/other veg dish and put it out for the kids to snack on until Daddy gets home at 630. Then everyone can eat together, everyone can spend time with dad/husband, and maybe youll even get some help with bedtime before he goea to maariv. :-)

  9. Yikes such a hard one and the answer changes year to year as the kids get older, etc. It’s hard because you have such a little one– well several littles ones. My kids eat early — around 5:30 and Bryan gets home more like 6:30. I’m with my kids while they’re eating, but I eat dinner with Bryan and we make the kids play together or finish chores/homework while we’re eating. Then we tackle bedtime together (assuming he’s not traveling, etc.) It’s not idea. I know it would be better if all 6 of us ate together every night. Thank God for Shabbos. ;)

    1. I feel like so much of parenthood is finding that balance of what’s ideal and what works for us individually, practically speaking. And yes, thank G-d for Shabbos! Seriously!

  10. I’m in similar situation. I say eat supper earlier with your kids and then just sit with your husband and keep him company whenever he eats his. This phase ends when your kids get older and then you can all eat a bit later together. Also because of shabbos you always have at least two family meals worked in on a regular basis. And maybe add a Sunday morning brunch if feasible.

  11. My father would always come home late. According to my mom, before I was old enough to remember, he wouldn’t come home until 10 p.m.! From when I can remember, he would come home between 6 and 7 (he had a 45 min+ commute, depending on traffic, in addition to long hours) and we would have dinner between 7 and 8. I remember thinking that people who have dinner at 6 are so weird! However, I know the importance of an earlier bedtime for the kinderlach. My daughter needs to be in bed by 7 p.m., and when she goes in later, I suffer in the morning. My suggestion is as such: From all of my experiences, a family dinner time is amazing. Not many of my friends had one, and while when I got older I thought it wasn’t as cool, I treasure what I had then now. I would suggest to have a fixed dinner time most nights at 6 p.m. (since that is your golden number, it seems). On Thursdays, when I’m assuming they have a reduced school schedule on Friday, you could have dinner at 7 or 8 p.m., whenever is best for your husband, so you can still have family dinner time. I’m assuming, however, that this would give you 4 nights of family dinner time, including Shabbos, Motzaei Shabbat and Sunday. Even if you lose Sunday, this still gives you three nights of family dinner. I would opt for some rather than none, and not completely throwing the kids off schedule. Hatzlacha rabba!

    1. Whoa – that *is* late! I think it would be nice to try to get some more family dinners in there, absolutely. We might be a few years from it still, though. I think I’m going to chart when my kids are actually hungry and see how it all falls out. Oooo! A project!

  12. I have always felt that mincha\ma’ariv has the special ability to ALWAYS be at an annoying time. Our basic routine which does have a lot of flexibility to it: my kids need to eat early–they come home from school starved, so my goal is to feed them dinner between 4:15\4:30-5:15, depending how organized I am\if they have after-school activities\etc. I grew up with family dinner as a non-negotiable (didn’t even realize not everybody did that till I was in middle school). so we typically have dinner as a group (me + my 5 kids), with my husband joining us at some point if he is able (he works a very variable job as well as going to Mincha whatever time it is). Dinner is followed by h.w.\baths\bedtime, depending on ages, and if he is home we tag team, and if not, I juggle (and bedtime usually ends up a drop later b\c of it). So basically, we have our routine, and he joins us most nights, either for all of it, or more likely, for some parts of it and not for others (not unusual to be here during dinner and then leave after). If he misses dinner, he either grabs something when he comes in, or else after the bedtime rush is over he will sit down and eat something. Sometimes I will wait and eat with him at that point, which feels like a treat when it happens a few times a night. I would say that I and the kids are lucky that he is around as much as he is, but the variability is definitely a draw back, and took me many years to learn to live with.

    (Not a regular on your lovely blog, but stumbled across this question and clearly it spoke to me…or rather I felt the need to speak to it. :) )

    1. It is SO TRUE about minute/ma’ariv. I feel like it’s a challenge for every frum wife at a certain stage. I’m so glad you took the time to share your experience! I could completely relate to so much of it.

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