Why We Gave Up Family Dinners and Switched to Tea

We’re supposed to sit at the table for dinner. Everyone knows this. But in our house, we rarely manage. Maybe it’s because my husband and I remember family dinners of our youths as tense affairs. Maybe it’s that we just don’t have time to clear the dining table of projects more than once a month. Or that our children won’t stay at the table for more than five minutes anyway. Or that conversation lags as we try to shovel in our meals before a baby cries. (All of the above.)

After trying and failing several family dinner improvement plans, we did what conscientious parents are not supposed to do. We gave up on dinner. Once the stress was off, I found myself looking forward to time with the family in late afternoons. A new pattern emerged when we evicted dinner guilt. We started having family tea.

Even if the children wreak havoc through the house, the tea table is a spot of order and graciousness. This is the table in process of being laid for tea.
Even if the children wreak havoc through the house, the tea table is a spot of order and graciousness. This is the table in process of being laid for tea.

My husband and I have always loved sharing tea together, but we didn’t always make a fuss over it. That is, until I started feeding the kids at the train table in the living room and putting the kettle on when the sun starts sinking. That china that is too much bother for a dinner serving is just fine for a bowl of nuts and a plate of cheese and crackers. Our posh serving pieces that have scarcely seen the light since our oldest was born are the perfect frames for cookies and baked treats. Unlike dinner, which just didn’t work for us, tea brings out our best.

The children sometimes take tea with us around the table. More often, they run up to the tea table and glory in the permissiveness of tea treats. We parents get a hot beverage boost and have the chance to finish a few sentences while the cracker tray empties into little bellies. We all let loose, calm down, relax, and reorient at the tea table. Which, if my dinner related guilt reminds me correctly, was supposed to be the point of family dinners.

Children’s Books with Tea Scenes

Now that I’m working on my third novel, I am growing more aware of my subconscious habits. I can now tell you that I write about women of faith navigating relationships with the aid of tea. Tea will always be vital to the lives of my characters because tea is so central to my habits that I can’t imagine a full life without it. What I did not notice till this week is that the books I read to my children are rife with pro-tea propaganda. (Prepare yourself for a few poor quality photos taken while reading to the four littles.)

Mouse and Strawberry having tea
I think we all know why this was the third most read board book for my children.

About a month ago, I rejoiced to find one of our favorite board books on a lower bookshelf: The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry by Don Wood and Audrey Wood, and the Big Hungry Bear. I immediately started indoctrinating the babies about tea, I mean, reading them this lovely book. But this time I noticed myself pausing at my favorite page with the tea party scene. Look, babies! Even disguised fruit and rodents love tea. It’s ubiquitous. It’s inevitable. You will love tea.

A princess brokers peace with a dragon over tea in Part Time Princess
I think we all know why I just HAD to buy the children this nonconventional princess book. Role expansion, yes, that’s it.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I perused the newest spate of children’s books. I”m always on the lookout for nonconventional Princess books to humor and edify my princess/fairy/unicorn/castle/dragon-loving older children. I wound up purchasing two beautiful picture books – Princess Hyacinth: The Surprising Tale of a Girl Who Floated by Florence Parry Heide (which I just noticed ALSO has a tea party scene at its resolution!) and the one you see above, Part-Time Princess by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cambria Evans. I’m not even going to pretend that I bought that one for another reason. I loved the way the story and art imitated my life. We use tea for conflict resolution all the time in our household. (You should buy the book, because spoiler alert: it’s adorable and bright and spunky.)

There we are, then. Proof that I’m indoctrinating my children in the ways of tea by means of adorable picture books.

How about you? Do you have favorite picture books or other books that feature tea in the story? Please share so we can look them up!

 

[I do not receive any sort of gain by mentioning the books in this post; I’m just a fan.]

Tea for Tots

No need to clear the trains before the children pour for one another.
No need to clear the trains before the children pour for one another.

When we welcomed our first child into our tea-loving household, I had grand visions of teaching him to drink tea as soon as he could hold a cup. At his first birthday, I bought him a beautiful porcelain tea set. He took to it brilliantly.

Friends warned, of course, that our next child might not be so compatible with a tea set. They raised their eyebrows in surprise when they saw my son politely sipping Keemun (with lots of milk and sugar) or tasting our decaffeinated Earl Grey. But my daughter proved wrong their skeptical looks, joining her brother enthusiastically in preschool tea parties as soon as she could walk. They took turns pouring and serving biscuits, gathered round the living room tea table in my perfect vision of familial tea bliss.

The problem came when I had the bright idea of sharing our little tea tradition. We invited a couple of tea loving parents over for a tea party, thinking, “Hey, their children are about the same age. Their parents love tea. This should go great!”

We only lost two saucers and a cup before I realized that most toddlers think of porcelain tea sets as projectiles, not instruments of ceremony and joy. Enter the recycled plastic tea cups. Tea was poured. On the floor. And the couch.

Even with the general lack of tea conditioning among the preschool set, I refuse to give up my grand vision of drawing my children into the family tea culture. We welcomed twins in the spring, and what did I rush to add to the baby registry? An additional porcelain tea set, of course. A year from now, I expect we’ll be introducing Darjeeling to our newest little darlings.

Tea for Tots

My daughter is a proper tea hostess now, but she's also 3. She inspects the treats first.
My daughter is a proper tea hostess now, but she’s also 3. She inspects the treats first.

When we welcomed our first child into our tea-loving household, I had grand visions of teaching him to drink tea as soon as he could hold a cup. At his first birthday, I bought him a beautiful porcelain tea set. He took to it brilliantly.

Friends warned, of course, that our next child might not be so compatible with a tea set. They raised their eyebrows in surprise when they saw my son politely sipping Keemun (with lots of milk and sugar) or tasting our decaffeinated Earl Grey. But my daughter proved wrong their skeptical looks, joining her brother enthusiastically in preschool tea parties as soon as she could walk. They took turns pouring and serving biscuits, gathered round the living room tea table in my perfect vision of familial tea bliss.

The problem came when I had the bright idea of sharing our little tea tradition. We invited a couple of tea loving parents over for a tea party, thinking, “Hey, their children are about the same age. Their parents love tea. This should go great!”

We only lost two saucers and a cup before I realized that most toddlers think of porcelain tea sets as projectiles, not instruments of ceremony and joy. Enter the recycled plastic tea cups. Tea was poured. On the floor. And the couch.

Even with the general lack of tea conditioning among the preschool set, I refuse to give up my grand vision of drawing my children into the family tea culture. We welcomed twins this spring, and what did I rush to add to the baby registry? An additional porcelain tea set, of course. A year from now, I expect we’ll be introducing Darjeeling to our newest little darlings.