My wife and I have very different views on how our kids should behave at our Shabbos meals and we would welcome your opinion.
She comes from a more rigid home than mine and my in-laws have 2-3 hour meals with everyone sitting in their seats. My parents were more laid back and gave us a great deal of freedom to be excused from the table.
Our oldest is a 12-year-old boy and his behavior (or lack thereof) at our meals caused friction in our home over Pesach. We both look forward to your comments about this issue.
I am a restless 58-year-old who doesn’t respond very well to being forced to “sit in my seat,” as is the custom of your in-laws — so I might not be the best person to ask this question.
Having said that, may I recommend that you pick up a copy of Rav Shlome Wolbe’s excellent parenting/chinuch book, masterpiece, “Planting and Building,” https://www.amazon.com/Planting-Building-Education-Raising-Jewish/dp/1583304029 where he has harsh words for parents who force kids to sit for long periods of time at Shabbos tables.
Now, if it is working for you and your kids enjoy those types of Shabbos meals, and many do, go for it!
But if they don’t, it is a bad idea.
Your eleven-year old probably spent 40-50 or more hours in minyan, school and doing homework in an average week. With that in mind, he would be entirely justified in wanting to unwind on his ‘day off’.
Also keep in mind that with the advent of technology, studies indicates that attention spans are dropping dramatically. So even if it did work when your wife was growing up, it may not work in today’s environment.
Shabbos meals need to be events that your children look forward to. I would suggest doing what my wife and I did when our kids were young — we ‘front-loading’ the zemiros and divrei Torah component of our Shabbos tables, so our kids could participate in those important aspects — and then have the option of opting out.
PS — (Hat Tip to Noam Stein) I would encourage you to bring your wife into the exploration of this matter. Perhaps sit down with her and read the Rav Wolbe book together — rather than brandishing it and spiking the football in the end zone.
People are accustomed to the way things were done in their home growing up and change is a process.
I would also advise you to have a talk with your father in law well before pesach. say that this approach is what our son needs…..
We have a similar issue – kids like to disappear into the living room.
In response, we have the following policies:
– kids must get permission to leave the table,
– they must come back when we sing and/or say Divrei Torah (age appropriate: I won’t expect a 6-year old to sit through a drasha),
– no dessert if a child didn’t eat solid food (we don’t force them to eat, but they must have a carb, a protein, and a fruit/vegetable – at any time; if the food was already cleared, they can fill their plate at the kitchen counter),
– they must help serve / clean.
(This way, the parents are in charge, but the kids still have their freedom to escape.
We didn’t specifically develop these rules, they just evolved over the years).
Hope it helps.