DEAR MISS MANNERS: One of the organizing principles of my family's life has been that, since our kids were babies, we've eaten dinner together as a family nearly every night -- seated at our kitchen table, with no screens.
As a result, my children, now 16 and 11, have pretty good table manners, are capable of adult conversation and eat a healthy variety of cuisine. It's a linchpin of our good family relationships.
But how do we manage varying natural eating speeds? My husband, son and I probably eat a bit too fast, but my daughter is a remarkably slow eater. The three of us end up sitting in front of our empty plates for 15+ minutes while my daughter finishes her food.
At some point, my husband starts clearing the plates and cleaning up because he has to get up very early -- and, I suspect, because he is restless. My son gets up and starts scrounging around the kitchen for more food, because he is 16 and an athlete (and because he is also restless). I am unsettled by all the activity.
On occasion, my daughter will more or less excuse the rest of us and finish dinner alone, which feels lonely for her and rude for us. On other occasions, she will just stop eating when the rest of us are done. The overall result is that our family meals, which are quite pleasant overall, end on a slightly hectic note.
The three of us could slow down a bit, but not all the way down to my daughter's pace, and I hesitate to ask her to hurry up. It also seems unreasonable to ask everyone else to hang out in front of empty plates for an extra 15 minutes instead of getting to bed, starting homework, etc.
I'm officially at a loss, and hope you have some suggestions on how we can harmonize the wrap-up to our family dinners.
GENTLE READER: One can require children to attend family meals without its feeling like a hostage situation. Everyone should be expected to stay a reasonable length of time -- even if they are fast eaters and finish early.
After that, one person should volunteer to remain as company with your daughter while the others are excused. Ideally, that duty will be rotated.
What, you ask Miss Manners, is a reasonable amount of time? She would not have thought that an extra 10 minutes would be much to ask of your restless son or your sleepy husband. An additional 30 minutes is a different matter.