“I don’t want to be one of those guys,” my husband said to me. “I want to be home for dinner with our kids, every night.”
We didn't have children yet, but Jeff already knew what kind of a dad he wanted to be. In his high-powered firm, he saw executives spend long hours at the office during the week—even Saturdays and half of Sundays. He suspected some people were hiding from their families. They had heavy work loads, to be sure. But as a junior exec on the partner track, Jeff knew who was working on what cases. He knew some folks didn’t need to be in the office as much as they were. Jeff wanted to do better. He was going to be a Home-for-Dinner dad, a Weekends-Are-for-Family dad. In time, we had three children in six years. Jeff made partner, his hours expanding along with his responsibilities. But he never forgot his vow to be home for dinner. That meant we did things differently. Most of our friends fed their kids dinner at 5:00 or 6:00—often without the parents. Our children ate dinner with us every night at 8:00, when Jeff came through the door. To make this work, I gave the kids a heavy snack right after school. Sports activities, homework, and baths and got finished before Dad arrived. Dinner rules included no TV, everybody—even the baby—gets to talk, and everybody listens when somebody is talking. After dinner, the kids went straight into their bedtime routine: potty, teeth, story time, and goodnight kisses. Studies have shown that academic performance rises when children routinely eat dinner with their parent or parents. When the TV is off and cell phones are silenced, the family can regroup, connect, and share stories about their day. When children are asked what they think, and when adults pay attention to their answers, little minds learn that they matter, and they thrive. It certainly worked for us. Our kids are an M.D., the principal of a junior high, and an engineer about to begin business school. I firmly believe their success has a lot to do with Jeff, for being a Dinner Dad.