This will be filed under the "keeping it real" category of blog posts.
For the first two years with twins, we never had family meals together. The boys were so messy in their high chairs that our food would be cold by the time we got to eat. Jon and I were also so tired and busy that it was nice to have dinner together by ourselves after the boys went to bed.
When the boys turned two, we started eating dinner together. And at age 4.5 (those crazy half years!), mealtimes are some of the most stressful times at our house. There is the NON STOP TALKING by TWO small children. The lack of eating, leading to whining and begging for snacks. The yelling. The bad manners. The constant interruptions. The wiggling. We tried 1 2 3 Magic but it was exhausting to constantly send the boys to time out, and it wasn't changing the behavior.
So... we instituted a new rule at mealtimes. The boys are not allowed to talk until they finish half their food. I can not tell you how mean I felt to institute this rule, but we are talking about 90 minute dinners in which almost no food was eaten.
Day care has given us great advice in the past so I asked one of the teachers if they have a problem with the kids talking too much and delaying at meals. They said they have a rule at school that the kids (all four year olds!) are not allowed to talk until they have finished their first helping (they serve themselves). You would think that after four years in day care, I would have thought to ask the teachers first when things got crazy.
We've also taken to setting timers and if they finish their meal by a certain time, they can watch tv or do something special with us.
The longer I am a parent, the more I come to realize my life will be crazy until the boys leave home.