Locally specific manners? Reading at the dinner table edition

Do you let your kids read at the table?  I feel like this used to be impolite but personally, I have no problem with it.  When I was growing up, at home we were allowed to read at lunch (my dad still does).  But we were not allowed to read at the dinner table.

I’m lucky that my parents supported and modeled that reading for fun is a great thing to do.  My dad’s mother was also a big reader, and as a result so are most of her children.  I think it’s ok to read in restaurants and bars (if you can concentrate).  My nightmare is a person who sits on a plane next to me and brings nothing to do except talk.  What did you plan to do for this six-hour flight, just stare into space???

Do you think reading at the dinner table is rude or perfectly ok?

#2 who has kids hasn’t really given this much thought but her kids do read at the dinner table sometimes.  We’re much more informal about meals than we were growing up though and sometimes eat standing up in the kitchen.  #2 also cannot handle the middle-seat chatterbox who has run out of the airplane magazine.  #2 wants to read novels uninterrupted on planes!

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24 Responses to “Locally specific manners? Reading at the dinner table edition”

  1. independentclause Says:

    I remember my grandmother coming to take care of me once, and I was reading during lunch. “Does your mother let you read during lunch?” she said, trying to discipline me. “Yes,” I said. And that was that. (Although there was no reading during dinner.)

  2. Katherine Says:

    We read at breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. (Unless one of us is eating alone because the other is out/eating somewhere else later/whatever. Pretty much any time we’re sitting down, not eating dinner together, and not consuming other media, we’re reading.) That was also the practice in my family when I was growing up, although by the time I was in high school, my and my parents’ different work and school schedules made eating dinner together rare, so I usually did read at the dinner table.

    I don’t know what the rule was in my husband’s family of origin. They are readers, so my impulse is to guess that they read at least during some meals, but my husband’s class background is not really the same as mine, so I won’t assume.

    I have never encountered an airplane neighbor who wants to talk more than exchanging pleasantries. I agree that would be super annoying.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      In my experience they are generally very eager to tell you about their religion, although they are not jerks about yours. Usually it is a middle-aged lady with grown kids in transit to or from visiting relatives, but I have also learned quite a bit about hari Krishna from a young gentleman and bible contests from a female tween from Alaska.

      Addendum: in defense of the hari Krishna and bible studies contestant, they’d each brought a single book that they were perfectly happy to share (with the Bible girl we pulled it out in the discussion of faith without works, which I contended was nothing, thank you Catholic education). The guy’s book was much more colorful.

  3. NessieMonster Says:

    I don’t have kids (yet, hopefully in a few years!) but we were never allowed to read at the dinner table growing up if it was a sit-down meal en famille. Dinner was for catching up with the whole family about how your days had been. Reading at breakfast or a solitary meal, or when alone in a coffee shop or restaurant, sure, totally fine, but never with company. Ditto reading stuff on phones over dinner or food in general being impolite if you have company.

    Mind you, we were a family of introverts so there was plenty of other time to read, and the structured socialising over dinner made it less intense. :-)

    • accm Says:

      I do have kids; they don’t read independently yet, but this is definitely the set of rules I will aim for. It’s also what I grew up with: newspaper OK at breakfast, but no reading at lunch or dinner if there are others to talk to. Reading any other time: encouraged! Oh, and I seem to be needing a rule about no singing at the table…

      • Katherine Says:

        I remember a no singing at the table rule from my childhood – my mom claimed that she was enforcing a rule that her parents had enforced during her childhood, although now she claims to not remember any singing prohibition. The only exception was sung grace, which we did a lot (we were heavily involved in girl scouting, and brought the sung graces home).

  4. Xin Says:

    We didn’t read at the table growing up, it simply wasn’t a thing that was contemplated. (I was allowed to bring a book to restaurants for dinners with family friends, though, and read after we were done eating/when the parents were all busy talking.)

    As an adult now though, I don’t have particularly strong feelings about keeping books (or screens) away during meals.

    And I definitely do not want to converse with strangers while on a plane. It pretty much never happens, either! I think I generally give off pretty strong “don’t talk to me” vibes, haha, my resting face is not particularly smiley or friendly-looking. Also, most of my air travel is on longer-haul international or red-eye flights were people are already inclined not to talk I think.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      For the middle-aged religious ladies, I’m an easier target than the Middle-eastern/West Asian/Black/Hispanic person in the aisle seat. *sigh* (Though the last time, she did make a valiant effort with the dude before wearing my defenses down.)

  5. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    When eating out, we talk to each other, rather than reading. At home, we generally read at breakfast and lunch, but not (usually) at the evening meal. There is not a strict prohibition on reading then, just a general attitude of it being a more social meal. We don’t allow screen-time during meals—reading is generally of books, magazines, or newspapers.

  6. delagar Says:

    Dr. Skull and I always read during meals, and when the kid was little, we continued this. When the kid got older, though — about ten, I think? — they started demanding we hold family time during meals. That lasted until they got a phone. Now *I* demand every talk during meals. Ha!

  7. yetanotherpfblog Says:

    We rarely eat “at the table” unless guests are over or for special dinner dates, so I can’t imagine reading a book in that context.

  8. becca Says:

    There are people who didn’t grow up with everyone reading at every meal? How horrifying.
    I mean, I knew from camp not everyone read at every meal, but that’s because some families were the other species. The non-reading humans. I thought all reading humans were reading all the time humans.

  9. Cloud Says:

    Our house rule is reading at breakfast time is fine (and most of us do it). Reading at lunch or dinner is OK if you’re eating alone, but generally frowned upon if you have company at the table. I think that was probably the same rule I grew up with, although it wasn’t really stated.

    We use family dinners as a chance to talk about our days- at some point, I started asking everyone to say one good thing that happened that day before telling us about any bad things that happened, because my oldest was complaining a lot about rather non-consequential things that had happened at school (this person broke a rule and didn’t get caught, this other person broke this other rule… things that didn’t really impact her at all). That caught on and now the kids expect to tell us their “good thing” and that usually devolves into telling us more about their day. Sometimes this is pretty short, but sometimes it is a great insight into what the kids are excited about at school or camp.

    We also don’t allow TV during lunch or dinner, except that we occasionally have a “picnic” in our living room and watch a movie, and the kids think that is a big treat.

  10. rose Says:

    Part of ‘no books or phones or tv at dinner table/time if other people present’ crew, variable re breakfast/lunch by circumstances. BUT: Huge Exception re younger children at restaurant when/if service/meal is VERY long/slow and child needs help to maintain decorum and peace.

  11. CG Says:

    We read (and chat) at breakfast and lunch, but not at dinner. We also in general don’t bring phones to the table. That hasn’t been an explicit rule, but I think if people started getting out their phones it would become one. Somehow being glued to the newspaper or The Economist or a novel is not the same as looking at the phone, even if what you are doing on the phone is reading the New York Times…interesting.

  12. Anu Says:

    Was generally not allowed to read at the table if others were eating with me, whether for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Sometimes there was relaxation of these rules. But I was the kind of kid who would read the label on the ketchup bottle if not allowed to read, so my parents were constantly trying to get me to read less and do other things more (such as converse, play, do sports etc. etc.). I imagine their rules might have been different if they’d had a different sort of kid, or if screen time was a thing growing up (we did not have a TV). If they sound strict, I guess they were about some things, but very relaxed about most things.

    • CG Says:

      Yes! Or the back of the cereal box! My kids are this way, too.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        One of my favorite Peanuts comic strips shows kids reading the backs of their various cereal/breakfast food boxes in the first three panels and then snoopy reading the back of his dogfood can in the last panel. (I cannot quickly find it online or I’d post it.)

  13. Lisa Says:

    When we’re at home, we have nothing but people and food at the dinner table. Breakfast and lunch vary more, depending on how many people are eating together.

    One of the things I’m trying to work out a policy for is what to allow at the table when we’re eating out. My kids get good practice at this because my in-laws join us for a dinner out almost every week. This year I got sick of the “hand the baby the iphone” strategy (effective as it is at keeping the toddler quiet) and ruled that we would have no phones at the table (we never have phones at the table at home, but I feel more responsibility to quiet the screaming when we’re out!). We always bring some good quiet toys when we go out to eat (coloring stuff, silly putty, tegu magnetic car, stuff like that). My “no phones” edict went over much better than I expected and the now 3-year old is reasonably well behaved most of the time playing with the dinner toys. But the older kids have started to bring books with them and I’m not really thrilled with that. I think they’re old enough to start to take part in the conversation, which won’t happen if they have a book.

  14. b Says:

    I often read to my kids while they eat (even though they are 7 and 9 and can read to themselves). I eat breakfast and dinner with my kids every day and lunch on the weekends too. We almost never have good conversations about our days. Something about sitting still and expecting good manners precludes my kids from having decent conversations. They fidget endlessly and knock things over and argue across the table (will they ever eat like civilized human beings- this remains to be determined). If I read to them they sit so much more still and focus on the story and are generally much more pleasant.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We find the car to be the best place to get information about our kids’ days. Something about it even opens up generally quiet and perpetually “I don’t remember” DC1 about hir activities.

  15. chacha1 Says:

    The DH and I nearly always eat in front of the TV, and I often have an e-book open simultaneously. He’ll often be using his phone for various purposes, or his own tablet. Dinner is just another time to get stuff done, for us.

  16. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I read at breakfast (on a tablet; I am not capable of socializing before coffee) but we don’t let the kids read at the table solely because we don’t want food on the library books. When they have tablets of their own, they can probably read at the table.

  17. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    I was never allowed to read at the table if I was sitting down to a meal with another person but I know I definitely wanted to as a child. As an adult I prefer to eat alone so that I can because it feels rude to read while sitting down with another person.

    JB can’t read yet so it’s not a real issue yet, though I suspect ze would LOVE to be allowed to flip through books while eating. Even if ze could read already, I’d still not allow it because ze is a very messy eater. If ze masters the ability to feed zirself AND read at the same time? Maybe. I don’t know yet.


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