Why I Moved the Family Dinners Into the Formal Dining Room

And why you should, too.

Photo copyright Giuseppe Famosa

I loved going to family gatherings when my parents were still together. I loved when people who were related to me stopped by and brought their joy, laughter, and great conversation. Their presence in my life was a welcome diversion.

I loved the comfort of knowing that every holiday included lots of food, lots of drink, lots of traditions, and loads and loads of people.

After my parents divorced, our circle became very small. And after my grandmother died from breast cancer, it became a speck. Holidays could be a very lonely time. Perhaps you can relate.

Building My Own Big Family

As a teenage girl, I dreamed of marrying a man who had a lot of very close siblings, parents who were still alive, and countless relatives to split our time with at all kinds of occasions like weddings, birthdays, baptisms, First Holy Communions, Thanksgiving, and of course, Christmas.

I imagined being one of the harried people at the airport before Thanksgiving frantically checking the departures screen, making sure my plane was going to get me to the family turkey dinner on time.

What I got instead was a man whose family was very much like mine except the opposite sex. My tiny family consisted of my sister, my mother, and me. My husband’s family was his brother, his dad, and himself.

Once I understood the dream of the large family was not going to materialize, I decided to make my own.

This was not a reasonable nor sustainable plan, however.

I wanted five children to get that big family dream going but reality soon hit. After the third child was born, I was done. I truly did not want any more kids.

Don’t get me wrong — I love my girls and I am so happy I have them, I just didn’t want any more.

Kitchen Discomfort

My somewhat large family ate dinner every single night at the kitchen table that comfortably sat four people. Keep in mind, we are a family of five.

Every dinner, someone (usually me) had to go to the formal dining room and grab the fifth chair before we could start eating.

I kid you not.

Every. Single. Night.

Clearly nobody thought this inefficient process all the way through despite one of us having an extremely logical job as a software engineer. My husband is intelligent (I affectionately call him the ‘human calculator’), but when it comes to doing things the way they’ve always been done, he’s clearly on the side of autopilot.

My belief, drilled into me from childhood, was that we could only eat meals in the formal dining room when it was a high holiday like Christmas and Easter, or maybe a birthday.

Despite ample evidence that we didn’t have enough room in the kitchen, we continued to eat dinner there.

The not enough seats issue continued on for years — a book purchase was about to change all that.

The Happiness Project caught my attention at Barnes & Noble so I bought it thinking it was going to help me increase my happiness.

I’ll confess I was seeking some happiness back in 2009, actively seeking it in good and bad places, wrong and right situations but that is neither here nor there. The point is, I was in seeking mode and The Happiness Project came at just the right time.

(Side note: I’ve noticed on Amazon that Gretchen Rubin, the author of The Happiness Project, updated the book in 2015. The information I am sharing is from the original book; I’m not sure what new information is in the more recent edition.)

Ample room for all

Given that nine years have passed since I first read Ms. Rubin’s book, I don’t remember much, but I do remember the one aha that changed our kitchen chaos into ample room for all.

The one section of Ms. Rubin’s book that had a huge impact on me talked about using everything you’ve purchased because doing so brings you joy. She suggested not saving anything for a special occasion.

I couldn’t imagine doing such a thing, but yet, the idea intrigued me.

While reading the book, I had a flashback of going through my grandmother’s things after she passed away. My grandmother had clothes with the tags still on and perfume that was never used because it was for ‘good.’ I don’t remember the exact phrase she said, but I got a clear picture that people had everyday stuff and then they had the goods one only brings out for special times.

I was raised to think that the best stuff, including wedding china and formal dining rooms, were only for occasions deemed fancy enough, or ones in which a hostess had to make an extraordinary impression on others.

The message I received as a child was that I was not good enough for the best stuff.

Sad when you think about it. And the worst part? I didn’t question it.

My grandmother died before she could use everything she bought ‘for good.’ The formal living room remained pristine for nobody’s eyes. The good china was donated to charity.

Everyone has a seat at the table

It was The Happiness Project that got me thinking, and once I started thinking, the changes started happening.

The first change was the dinner seating. The first time I served an ordinary dinner in the formal living room, everyone panicked. Had they missed a holiday of some sort? Had someone died? Why were we eating in the formal living room if it wasn’t a holiday?

Explaining to my family gathered around the big-enough-to-hold-everyone table, I informed my brood that we would be eating in the formal dining room from now on. Four pairs of big eyes stared back at me.

But what if we spill something on the carpet?

Someone will clean it up.

But what if we break something?

Someone will buy another thing at the store.

The first couple of meals in the formal dining room were fraught with tension, nervousness, and a formality we didn’t normally show on a day-to-day basis while eating in the kitchen. In the kitchen, my girls were rambunctious and animated, telling tales of their adventures at school. Their voices loud and commanding attention.

Sitting in the formal dining room, though, the kids were so focused on not spilling that they probably spilled more. They didn’t talk very much and were more subdued than usual.

I was determined to make this change work, so I kept serving dinner in the formal dining room until its magical spell was broken and it became just another room. It worked! We no longer save the formal living room for special occasions. The formal living room is used nearly 365 days per year. No more dragging a chair to the kitchen for meals.

Everyone has a seat at the table now, and there’s even room for friends.

We are much happier, thanks to The Happiness Project. We use everything we buy because it brings us joy to do so. And we use every room in the house because we can.

Thank you to Melanie Rockett for providing the inspiration for this post.

Far more interesting internally than externally. I write to quiet the voices. Deleted Facebook & Twitter thereby immediately quieting 1000’s of voices.

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