We've all heard that family dinner is important.
We've heard that somewhere in the flurry of the week, in the approximately 1.5 hours between everyone getting home, finishing homework and getting ready for bed, good parents will plan and cook a nutritious meal.
And then good parents will gather the herd around the (lovingly set) table and gaze warmly at those (well-mannered) offspring as they (uncomplainingly) eat that nutritious meal while regaling their parents with (interesting) stories of their day and listening (interestedly) to everyone else.
Before clearing the table and doing the dishes harmoniously, the whole family will (politely and intelligently) debate politics and discuss current events, Kennedy family-style.
Because some of us are raising future ambassadors and presidents, right?
And then good parents are supposed to do it all again tomorrow, or at least three times a week. That's what the parenting gods up on Mount Olympus have ordered, and failing to do so could mean that our kids end up on Maury Povich or, worse, as Instagram stars.
So we try, and we fail, and we beat ourselves up for failing, and then we try again, and we fail again, and beat ourselves up for failing again. Because Einstein said the definition of insanity was what? Anyway.
As a Must-Have Parent, my table often has a empty seat. Deployments, training, schools and other travel mean that my husband misses a lot of dinners. Pushing for so-called "family time" seems even more daunting when, with mandated less-than-perfect family attendance, there is absolutely no way we can hit that target.
Confession time: When my husband is away, our family dinners often slack off. Sort of. By the time I get a meal on the table, I'm often exhausted and, adorable as they are, conversation with my children is not always stimulating for me.
But here's the good news: Our family dinners rarely slack off in the way that the experts say matters the most. As it turns out, the biggest benefit in family dinners is not in the "dinners" but in the "family."