Laura de Medici-Bentley: Stand your ground during dinnertime

Laura de Medici-Bentley

In my family, dinnertime always meant sitting at the table together every night. Conversations at the dinner table were never dull. Sometimes we talked about how our day went, sometimes we planned vacations. Everyone participated, and nobody got up until everyone else was finished. I consider myself very lucky to have had both parents home for dinner every night.

What does dinnertime look like now? Completely different. Lamar’s work schedule allows him to be home during the afternoon, but during the week he isn’t home for dinner.

Some nights, we eat with my parents. On nights where the two of us eat at home, I set the table for Livia and myself, and I talk about the highlights of our day. I ask her what her favorite parts were, and I ask her what she would like to do tomorrow. The conversation is pretty one-sided, but it helps her be able to reflect on past events and make plans for the future.

For the past months especially, dinner has been the bane of my existence. Livia has wanted to be everywhere except the table. She usually climbs down from her chair (she doesn’t use a highchair) between bites so she can pretend to cook something else in her play kitchen or go down her slide. I can appreciate a toddler’s need to be on the move, but mealtime is not the time or place. It also can’t be good for digestion if she’s all over the place while she’s eating. I notice that when we eat at my parents’ or when Lamar is home for dinner, she sits through dinner. I’m guessing this is because there are more people at the table and everyone is talking. There’s more to listen to.

When it’s just the two of us, however, I’d find myself following her around with food, trying to get her to eat a few more bites, or worse, I would keep her at the table by bribing her with my iPhone. It kept her at the table, but seeing her with my phone in her hand as she ate was beyond depressing.

Obviously, I don’t remember what dinnertime looked like when my sister and I were toddlers, but I’m sure my parents expected us to sit in our booster seats the entire time. We didn’t have videos to look at. We sat there because it was dinner time, and it’s what we were expected to do.

This week, I put my foot down. One night, instead of eating the rotisserie chicken I bought, Livia said “no” and went off to play. I told her in a matter-of-fact tone that if she didn’t eat when it was dinner time, she wouldn’t eat again before breakfast.

Bedtime is usually around 8, so I decided to give her until 7:30 before giving up on dinner. She played for a while and seemed perfectly indifferent about the ‘no dinner’ idea. At 7:25, she said “Mommy … eat chicken?” I told her “You will sit and eat at the table. If you get up, it means you’re all done, and the chicken goes in the trash.”

I felt like I was being a little “old school,” and it worked!

For the first time in a while, dinner wasn’t a free-for-all. She sat the entire time, and we had fun being silly with each other at the table. She even helped me put her plate in the dishwasher. By not caving in, Livia respected my rule for dinner.

Since then, we have had more success eating together for other meals as well. I took a look at what I was doing during the other meals and realized I might have been modeling the wrong behavior. Now, instead of cleaning in the kitchen during breakfast or lunch, I make sure we eat together. I save the cleaning for after, and I’ve learned that she’s more likely to help me. It makes me happy to know that even when it’s just the two of us, we can share quality time at the table.

Laura de Medici-Bentley, of Winchester Virginia, is a former early childhood educator who currently enjoys staying home with her [almost] 2-year-old daughter. She is an author of a personal blog, She can be reached at