Before we had kids, Aaron and I knew that we wanted to establish a "dinner time = family time" rule. And then we had a kid, and, well, our schedules weren't so very routine for a long time. Eamon didn't want to eat dinner the same time we did, or we got off work too late, or he didn't eat the same things we did...and we usually just ended up making dinner after he went to bed. That wasn't too hard, since until recently he started bedtime about 6:30 and was in bed by 7:00 (what can I say? My boy likes his sleep, just like his mommy).
And then...Eamon didn't want to go to bed at 7:00 anymore. He would stay awake and talk to his stuffed animals...and then scream at his stuffed animals...and then scream at life in general...and we were up and down the stairs, checking to make sure that he was okay. Bedtime was getting drawn out longer and longer, and finally, we just started putting him to bed around 7:00 with an aim of getting him in his crib around 7:30, and everything got better. He started going to sleep almost immediately, with minimal talking/screaming at the poor inhabitants of his crib.
But 7:30 is an awfully late time to start making dinner...especially when I generally am in bed by 8:30. So we finally decided to put our original equation into effect.
It required some work on our parts.
1) We have to actually know what we're having for dinner each night. No more random rummaging around.
2) Everyone has to get home on time. This means that we can't decide we'll get to work later and stay later...you have to leave work by 5:30PM at the latest so that dinner preparation can start at 6:00. That's the rule. (except on nights that I have class...because I can't imagine my professors being okay with my just up and leaving because I haev to go make a grilled chicken salad, thank you very much).
3) We actually have to keep the dining room table cleared off.
4) Everyone has to help cook the dinner; everyone has to help clean up after dinner. This is another rule, because I simply refuse to let Aaron be the fun guy who entertains Eamon while I cook and clean. Eamon wanders around doing Eamon things while Aaron and I prepare dinner, and after dinner, even Eamon helps clean up by putting the dishes in the dishwasher for us. He'll also throw away trash (packages and things), and as he gets older, I fully expect him to get on his little stool and actually help prepare anything that doesn't involve the stove or a sharp knife. (He loves his little stool. One of his favorite games is pretending to wash the dishes.)
So, it's taken some hard work, but everyone has gotten into the new routine. And you know what? It's great. Eamon plays with his veggie straws or reminds us that the dog is in the room by woofing and pointing to her. He makes funny faces and tries to wipe his nose with deli turkey, and is just all around really amusing. Aaron and I get to talk about our days, political events (okay, that's really all Aaron, and I just make thoughtful comments like "My goodness" and "Oh, really?"), plans for the weekend, etc..
And now? Dinner has gone from being just another chore ("Guess I should eat something before I go to bed, huh?") to my favorite time of day.