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The New Family Math: Eating Dinner Together Somehow Got Subtracted!

It’s that time of year again. Eating dinner together just doesn’t seem to happen.

Kids coming and going. School supplies filling the dining room. Old habits returning and new habits forming. The dishwasher, comfortable in its summer-time energy-saving mode, is in full force again. But what’s in the dishwasher has changed.

My husband noticed it last week after my son left for his sophomore year of college.

“What’s up with all of the spoons being dirty?” he asked one morning, searching for a clean spoon for his cereal.

“No idea—just grab a teaspoon,” I offer.

“No—not even a teaspoon is clean. All 20 spoons are dirty. I swear I just unloaded the dishwasher last night.”

Muttering something about how can that be, I rise and search the drawer.  Hmmm not a spoon in sight.

It sounds ridiculous, but he’s right.

“You know, this is all because Zach is gone. We used forks and knives all the time. Now everyone’s grabbing the spoons and doing their own thing,” I grumble. My family had fallen apart. That we weren’t even eating dinner together was proof.

A Family Eating Together…Or Not

With all five of us home, there was a lot of talk about eating dinner together. In a world that is so busy, I took great comfort in knowing we would be together as a unit at the end of the day. I claimed a victory when kids’ activities fell on the same night since it left the remaining nights free.

You’re probably still confused. Wouldn’t the “spoon consumption” be the same whether he was here or not? Why would there be more dirtied spoons and not just fewer dirtied forks and knives?

How could one child leaving home cause the carefully created ecosystem to crumble?

That’s when I remember the New Family Math. I discovered it last fall when Zach went to college, and our household settled into some new (note I didn’t say better) routines.

The remaining kids love cereal, ice cream, yogurt, soup, a second bowl of cereal, a third bowl of cereal. You get the point.

Everything’s Better When We Eat Dinner Together (So Why Don’t We?)

Five of us in the household. One leaves for college. Old math says we have four people left to use a combination of utensils.  New math says the following:

One child leaves for college. A second child has a tennis match. Another child would prefer a bowl of cereal to “chicken again?” The yield is lots of spoons to scoop the cereal, soup, yogurt—the new family dinner “entrees”.  Forks and knives remain clean in the drawer.

Another scenario:

One child leaves for college. Two children leave for dinner with Grandma. One parent is too tired to eat, and the other hasn’t missed a meal since 1984. New math leaves a spoon for the heated up soup and a knife for the leftover bagel. Chips and salsa don’t require utensils. Forks all remain clean in the drawer.

And yet another:

Five of us in the household. One child leaves for college. One child has to work. One parent has a meeting. How many spoons are used?

The answer is one. The two remaining family members went to Chipotle, and the parent who had the meeting used a spoon to eat ice cream right out of the carton at 10:00 p.m. post-meeting. No time for a family dinner together. Again, one spoon used, no forks or knives.

And this is why I can never do my kids’ math homework.

Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman is publisher of Your Teen Magazine.

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