Can you see my hand waving at you? I’m over here in the WEEDS of raising three kids. Life is busy and noisy and I feel like a passing wave is sometimes the best I can offer to even my dearest of friends. But over the past month or so, I experienced something amazing that I knew I had to share. If you saw the title of this post and thought I was going to deliver some Pioneer Woman miracle, I am sorry to disappoint, but I am not that great of a cook. These are different dinner tips that I hope encourage you whether you are a mom that has it all together (who are you and what is your secret?!) or you are in the weeds like me.
Over the past four weeks, I enjoyed three different dinner experiences that refreshed my heart. Each of them took place with completely different people. One was in a totally different state. I spent time reflecting on why I felt so good after each of them, and I realized that each offered a unique quality: not the food (though some of it was utterly delicious and fancy), but rather the company and intention of the evening. Let me explain, and perhaps you can decide how to fit them into your schedule too.
Option #1: A Dinner Centered On Celebration
The first dinner was a surprise birthday party honoring my sister. I flew all the way to Colorado to join her college and work friends at a lovely little restaurant and ring in her milestone year. I was there without any children, mine or others’, and it was so rare for me to eat dinner at what would normally be bedtime. We all felt such an abundance of love that evening, many of us having traveled hundreds of miles away to show how grateful we are for who my sister is and all that she means to us. I loved seeing her face when she walked in the room and took in how many of us made a special trip just for her. Though I am sure she appreciated the sweet cards and thoughtful gifts, I knew what meant the most to her.
If you are having a hard time being grateful for things in your own life, consider taking part in an evening of kindness and celebration. It doesn’t have to be a huge gathering—you could arrange a time and place for yourself and a handful of friends. If you need a little boost of encouragement, tell everyone to bring a blank card and randomly draw names to write encouraging notes to. You will leave the evening with a bunch of wonderful memories and a concrete reminder of how loved and important you are.
Option #2: A Dinner Centered On Community
While we certainly enjoy getting together with other families with multiple kids like us, it can make restaurant dining a little challenging—and occasionally embarrassing. (Did I mention that my four-year-old has been perfecting his ability to talk back to us in the voice of a parrot?) Instead of spending more money on food that our kids will not finish, we love to opt for a night at home instead. Just a few weeks ago, we were spontaneously invited up the street to our neighbors’ house for an amazing meal of chicken nuggets, fruit, chips, and ice cream with sprinkles. Our kids were over the moon! You would have thought I hadn’t fed them at all that day. Everyone ate a ton and was happy to catch up. The kids could be noisy and have terrible table manners and it didn’t matter at all. I love the opportunity to be right in the middle of the craziness with another friend that understands it too.
I enjoyed that evening so much that I decided to pay it forward this week. My son really wanted to invite a school friend over that I didn’t know well, so we turned it into an occasion to share dinner with his mom and little sister too. I am sure she wasn’t blown away by my cheese pizza and baby carrots, but we had a few hours to get to know one another better and let our kids be happy together. I want my son to see that our house is a welcoming place for everyone.
Is there someone with whom you can share a relaxing dinner? Perhaps you need to branch out and choose someone new in whom to invest some quality time. The whole idea is to find someone who will meet you where you are, with no judgment for the state of your house or cooking or presentation skills. Let it fill your emotional tank all the way back up to the top just by knowing you are not alone.
Option #3: A Dinner Centered On Communication
After a week-long vacation with my children (whom I love but was totally worn out from), one of my dearest friends said we should get together for dinner on my birthday. Her husband wasn’t feeling well and I really didn’t feel like going out with all of my minions, so my own awesome husband suggested that she and I go have dinner together somewhere—and we LEAPED at the opportunity. We ate at a lovely place where I would never take my children. There was wine and laughter and delicious food, but as my friend said, “We could have eaten fish sticks and I would still have been excited!” The point was that we spent three hours catching up on each other. We shared worries about our kids’ futures and chuckled over their silliness. She is truly a friend who makes my heart feel fuller and my stress seem more manageable.
I know that some days it may seem like this is an impossible goal—to have one dinner where there are no distractions and you feel truly heard and seen. You may really need this time with your spouse instead of a friend, or you may be like me and need a listening ear with a different perspective. The end result is that these few hours leave you with a big impact. The place and cost are totally up to you, but I hope you have the same outcome.
Mamas, if you find yourself in a place where you need an evening of celebration, community, or communication, don’t be afraid to ask your circle for help. Even two hours can make a difference to your emotional well-being. Over the next month, try to find a way to give yourself the gift of one of these dinners. I know how fortunate I am to have enjoyed them, and I wish the same love and joy for each of you.