Thanksgiving Table Manners

I hate eating with my kids. Really, I do. Our meal times usually push me to the edge of sanity. And with Thanksgiving just weeks away, I am reminded that I will be eating with my kids in a formal setting with other people.

Perhaps the turkey is less nervous than I am. Why? It isn’t for the reasons you may think.

I have long ago gotten past the worries about what food my kids will eat, or whether they can stay seated at the table, or their inability to be hungry at meal time, preferring to ‘graze’ all day. But, what I haven’t gotten over is their utter lack of table manners.

Yes, table manners.

I hear you – you think I shouldn’t worry about table manners that I perhaps have bigger fish to fry. But let me tell you, bad table manners is a pet peeve of mine that I just can’t let go. Somewhere in my mind I have attributed the presence of good table manners with a gold star on my ‘Mommy Chart’. I try to let it go, really, but the holidays bring it back in full force. Like my own personal race against time to get my kids to ‘brush up’ before anyone else is here to witness the horror.

My oldest son Gabriel is the worst. He actually has set the bar so low that it is hard for me to concentrate on how bad the table manners of my other two are. Gabriel knows our dinner rules; he can recite what the table manners are, in nauseating detail, answer a table manners quiz, and remind his brothers (and me) to mind our table manners should we falter, but, he cannot for the life of him follow them.

And it drives me to the point of madness.

Dinner rules are pretty simple at my house. I don’t feel like I am asking for too much.

Wear clothing at the table.
No feet on the table.
Use your utensils.
Keep your hands off your plate as best you can.

I don’t think those are too complicated for my sons. Nowhere does it say “You must eat what I am eating” or “You must stay in your seat”. I am trying to have realistic expectations. Even on Thanksgiving, the rules are the same. They can have chicken nuggets or peanut butter sandwiches, I’m easy. So long as they have a reasonable level of manners while doing so.

How exactly does Gabe challenge my OCD-like need for good manners? I’ll tell you. He eats at the speed of light, shoving his food into his mouth with his fork and hands in a sort of awkward partnership that is as unnatural as David Hasselhoff was on Dancing with the Stars – all with careless abandon and no points given for accuracy. The result is my child with food all over him. The floor. The table. His chair. His clothes. His hair. And whoever is seated next to him is covered in the overspray.

Yes, my 9 year old eats like a toddler.

I know this is a complex sensory issue. I even know how his senses each play a role in this eating-catastrophe:

Need to eat fast/always hungry (Introceoption)
Lack of awareness of where his mouth is (Proprioception/Vestibular)
In ability to feel food all over him (Tactile)
Seeking oral input (Taste)

I also know that eating is one of the few multisensory activities that requires coordination between all eight (8) senses. I understand his sensory issues make it harder for him to coordinate the incredibly complex motor planning and movements associated with eating.

My challenge is not an intellectual one. Not at all. It is an emotional one based on my own expectations of what dinner should be like. What my child should eat like. And to be completely frank, the social stigma of having a 9 year old that eats like a 2 year old. Especially in public. Or worse yet, in front of guests at Thanksgiving dinner.

For some reason Thanksgiving brings out the need for people (and me specifically) to try and recreate the Martha Stewart version of a perfect dinner. I try and cook the perfect turkey, bake the perfect pies, set the perfect table, make everyone’s favorite side dishes, have a perfectly clean house, and of course be showered, dressed and wearing pearls before serving the food. Not realistic.

Neither is my desire for Gabriel to have perfect table manners. Even on Thanksgiving. And you know what? That will be OK. Because Thanksgiving will be a perfect just the way it is. And so is Gabe.

So this year, when our family takes turns going around the table saying what we are thankful for, I am going to get choked up listing all of the things that come to mind from this last year, but one of them won’t be my son’s table manners. Which I think is perfectly OK.


Kathy said...

My son eats just like Gabe...and he's twelve! I guess we get gold stars on our Mommy Charts for other things. ;)

Alysia said...

I'm so with you. This is a huge issue in our house - not just at thanksgiving but every night at dinner. My son the sensory seeker chews loudly with this mouth open which irritates my older son the sensory avoider to no end. Then younger son chews louder to annoy older brother...I'm just happy he's eating. Because it's usually that the food doesn't smell right or look right or someone else's food doesn't look right.
My Thanksgiving will be successful if everyone sits at the table long enough for everyone to go around and say what they're thankful for! :-)

ShesAlwaysWrite said...

We could have our own little Martha wannabe club : ) I have an absolutely uncontrollable compulsion to try for perfect Thanksgivings.

I'm so glad you mentioned the feet on the table so I know it's not just us. The loud open mouth chewing makes me gag, but doesn't drive me as batty as the feet on the table. What is it with SPD boys and feet on the dinner table ?!

Mrs. C said...

My little sensation eats dinner in his underwear and falls out of the chair almost every night. So nice to hear others deal with dinnertime woes. Makes me feel "normal" whatever that means :)

Chynna said...

Jaimie was right here while I was reading this post. I keep forgetting how well she can read. She goes, "Hey! She hates eating with her kids, I read that. Sounds like our house, huh?"


We have issues with keeping clothes on, not squishing food or purposily wearing it, etc. too. See? This is 'normal' for us and exactly why we rarely have dinner guests or get invited out. LOL!!Maybe we should have some sort of 'sensational' Thanksgiving where we all eat together. Wouldn't THAT be interesting?

As always, great post, my friend.

Chynna <3

KDL said...

Yep. We essentially dine with three three year olds every night, but one of them sports an almost seven year old body. To be fair, we have made a lot of progress in this department in the last couple of years, but "big" dinners like Thanksgiving and having people over are still tense to say the least. Sometimes we, um, cheat...and feed the kids early (also prevents the calorie-deprived melt down from being forced to eat at a different time just because it's a special day) and have them watch a quiet show in the other room while we enjoy our feast. Doesn't work at Grandma's house, however, where everyone is expected to sit in their nice clothes and eat politely. It's a lot to ask from any kid.

Hartley said...

I guess even bad-table-manner-misery loves company. : )

Thank you all for the comments - I will be thinking of you on Thanksgiving day! LOL


Patty O. said...

What a great post! I can totally relate.

But what I love the most is how you talk about your issue being an emotional one tied to your desire to be seen as a perfect hostess/mom, etc. I totally have issues like those and I am glad you reminded me that I need to let go of them sometimes.

Because you're right: it is perfectly ok!

Adoption of Jane said...

I definitely feel your pain on this one!! I have the exact same issues around formal dining!!

Laurie Wallin said...

What if my nine year old is just a toddler all the time? :)

Jenny said...

Great post. I think any mother, especially one who has little boys, can relate! :)

Sila said...

I'm not a parent but I definitely can relate on my own accord, lol. I hate thanksgiving myself because I can't sit still, and a lot of foods are too hard for me to eat texture-wise. My mom sets up impossible "rules" for me and she just doesn't get it that they're hard to follow! Gah.

Good luck with your kids, though! I'm sure Thanksgiving wont be that bad afterall.

♥ Bonnie ♥ said...

My soon to be 8 year old eats like a toddler too. I try not to stress when it involves others. I simply remind him we need to use our manners in which he uses for a whole 30 seconds and then forgets about it. We have no expectations with formal dinners. Family knows and if they don't like it they can choose not to come over for dinners or invite us over and usually we always do the hosting so it sucks to be them if they don't like his dinning etiquette. lol

Gina @ Special Happens said...

Ah yes, the table manners. Feet off the table is certainly a good one. I think if J was flexible enough and one side not so weak as to keep him unstable, he might actually try that one.

Our issues, besides remaining seating which is still a work in progress (including for me)...don't throw (yes throw) your fork across the room missing the eyes of several passerbys. We *might* actually have to remove utensils for a while. said...

I finally confessed to my 6 year old that when he has certain behaviors in public, like walking in front of other people's shopping carts or running in the library, it bother me because other people say, or think, "that mommy must be a jerk," and it bothers me.
I got tired of blaming him, or disciplining him in public to please the masses, when a lot of the stuff is beyond his control. I also think if he had a app for every time someone said, "stop," he'd wear out the touch screen. Must be tiring.