After Divorce, New Tradition Brings Family Together
Dr. Molly O'Shea shares how a weekly meal with friends and family has helped her family cope with difficult changes.
Wednesday is the first day my kids are back with me each week. They spend Monday and Tuesday with their dad, and they are with me Wednesday, Thursday and every other weekend. It’s an even split and infinitely fair, but it remains strange years later that I have a homecoming of sorts every Wednesday.
Before ‘Friends for Dinner’ became routine, my boyfriend Tony would join us for dinner once in a while on a Wednesday, and for a long stretch, one of Conall’s close friends would come home from school with him and stay with us until about 8, having dinner with us every Wednesday. I was off work Wednesdays until recently and would greet the kids at the door and have some wonderful home cooked meal for us all each Wednesday night. We would sit around the table and share the meal, with friends in tow, and reconnect.
The start of a tradition
‘Friends for Dinner’ really came into its own about a year ago. It started innocently enough when a good friend needed some extra support. I invited her to dinner on a Wednesday and then again the next Wednesday and the next. She was adapting as her marriage unraveled and needed a safe warm place where she could come and see a glimpse of what things could look like as she picked up the pieces of her shattered life.
I started including my brother Tom every week, too, since he’s a rock star to my kids and they love being with him. Tony started coming more regularly, too, and lo and behold, a new routine emerged. By this fall we had added a new friend to the weekly mix – Tony’s best friend, Dave B. – and we have guest appearances by my former next-door neighbor, Karen (a grandma), and Dave S., a grade school teacher. The kids are each welcome to invite a friend as well that night, and often there’s at least one extra child around the table.
It’s raucous and loud and funny and filling and wonderful. Everyone arrives around 5:30 and we chat and catch up and hear about the adults’ week and the kids’ week. We hear about homework and sex ed and drivers ed and the drama at school.
Recently, we were sitting around the table with Karen there, too, and someone asked a question about the HPV vaccine. I answered Declan’s question about the vaccine preventing cancer of the cervix and penis and Mairen’s question about how the virus is contracted (a bit obliquely, I might add).
Declan said, “Sex, sex, sex! That’s all we ever talk about!” We all cracked up! Of course we rarely actually talk about sex, but it just shows that we have an open policy when it comes to answering questions.
We also talked about Dave’s upcoming interview and Tony’s attempt to determine if my house is leaking heat. He went around the house with Conall and a thermal imaging camera. Yep, it’s quite an event!
In the summer, we moved ‘Friends for Dinner’ to the swim club, and the adults and kids alike would swim and eat. I like to experiment a bit with the menu and even tried grilling lasagna, but learned that it really is better baked! We grilled whole chickens and steak fajitas and, of course, hot dogs and hamburgers, and by the end of the summer, ‘Friends for dinner’ was entrenched.
This fall, Kay and I (the most competitive of the crew in all ways) had a pea soup taste-off where we each made our signature recipe and kids and adults alike did a blind taste test (Kay won – even I voted for hers!). It’s fun and relaxed and integrates the kids and adults in a wonderful way.
Good food, good friends
What we eat or talk about, though, matters almost not at all. The wonderful unexpected outcome of our little routine is a sense of joy and family every Wednesday night.
The kids are all there and engaged. We talk with them and include them in everything. They get to hear a variety of political and social perspectives and they contribute too. They have learned that the adults around the table every week are loving supports in their lives. They thrive on the routine and even Mairen, the most reluctant to be an active part of the group at first, is animated and participates.
They understand that Tom and Tony and Kay and Dave are fixtures in their lives and can be counted on. They see that we adults love and respect each other even when we have differences of opinion. They see a casual, relaxed way to entertain even on a weeknight and have seen that having people over doesn’t have to be a stressful thing.
After the divorce, the kids were at sea. They didn’t know exactly what to expect or how their lives were going to change. ‘Friends for Dinner’ has provided an anchor for them and a little party every Wednesday to celebrate our reunion with good food, good friends, and a dessert every time. Sweet.