Have a question for Rivkie?
Friday night dinner is supposed to be lovely and peaceful, but at my house, it’s the worst night of the week. My kids fight, my wife feels like all her prep has been for naught, and someone invariably has a meltdown by the end of the meal. My kids are generally pretty good overall, and when we have dinner together any other night of the week, it’s fine; maybe a squabble here and there, but not the all-out war we see on Friday. None of them are little anymore, so that excuse doesn’t even work.
That sounds terrible! I am so sad to hear this tale of Shabbos table woe. It must be entirely your fault.
Ha! Just kidding: I am only saying this because I have the same problem. So, instead of making up some answer that sounds good but doesn’t actually help, I enlisted some outside guidance to address your question (and get some wise counsel myself). At Shabbos lunch recently, I was lucky to be in the presence of three generations of Lubavitchers, a group within the religious community known for large families, and decided to pose your question to them.
Here’s what I found out.
The children, parents, and grandparents in attendance were extremely bewildered by the question, as if (is it possible?!) this had never happened to them. We spoke about all of my (failed) tips and tricks — feeding kids early when Shabbos starts late, making a set seating chart so there’s no fighting, giving the kids all equal amounts of pre-poured grape juice — but the best advice I received at this meal was not even posed as advice.
It was from the Bubbe. She shared that at this extended family’s homes, Friday night is the most special meal, even more than Shabbos lunch. She described it as the night with the most beautiful table, most special (hot!) food, best clothing, freshly cleaned kids — all the things.
If we extrapolate from there, I think we could have a possible solution to
Let’s think about the Shabbos Queen. In the Shabbos hymn “Lecha Dodi” (“Come, My Beloved”), we welcome the Shabbat as both a bride and queen. According to Chabad.org, his concept goes all the way back to the Talmud, where we read that Rabbi Chanina would wrap himself in his special garments on Shabbos eve and say, “Come, and we will go out to greet Shabbat the queen.”
You and I need to go back to basics here and remember that we are welcoming Shabbos as an actual queen. Shabbos is something so special that we need to treat it like royalty. I think this is exactly what Bubbe was getting at.
How do we do that, you ask? I have a few ideas. First, it’s still important to make sure your kids have eaten at least something at their normal dinner time, since Shabbos starts so late now and throughout the summer. Second, make an effort to make the table especially beautiful, even more than you are doing now; even if it is already special, go the extra mile. Ask each kid to make, decorate, or bring something special to the meal so they have more skin in the game.
And fourth, invite guests. This is one thing that I have done that seems to improve the situation (and another aspect of Shabbos at which Lubavitchers excel).
All the best,