I really do hope, as you've read these posts on instituting a weekly Sabbath Dinner in your home, that you haven't gotten the impression that our Sabbath Dinners go off without a hitch every single week. First of all, as you know, I have three little monkeys. My oldest is not yet five so you do the math...they're all fairly close together and not that old. So pulling off a Sabbath dinner with the children can be quite a feat sometimes. I also have all boys whose ability to sit still does not last super long. It's not that we don't expect them to sit at all but, we must also understand their limits. Therefore, we've had to make some adjustments as we've gone down this road of training them to enjoy our Sabbath meal.
Here is what I've found. Aim for creating the habit of doing the meal over having it go amazingly well. Just get into the habit first. Your kids may not get it. Who cares? They will in time. Nothing was ever built overnight. Think of things in the long-term NOT the short-term. If you do, you'll be more satisfied with your results. It always takes awhile for a new habit to be formed so get that down first and then worry about the rest later. It's important to create the habit for the repetition over time is what will speak to your kids.
Lower your expectations of neatness. Even though you're making this the loveliest meal of the week, as we all know, little kids just don't eat nicely. Expect messes and learn to laugh about them. Nearly every week somebody spills something (usually the fancy Martinelli's drink during the toast) and I've basically gotten into the habit of getting out my Spray n Wash and literally spraying the tablecloth while still on the table. It's much easier to see all of the spots that way and saves me time on washing day!! Your Sabbath meal is a great time to teach proper manners but it will take time and maturity (theirs) to teach them. So expect blunders and messes.
Stick to your liturgy but adjust as needed. Decide what is essential for you to do as a family and stick with it. If it needs fine-tuning great but try and keep things as similar as possible so that your kids know what is coming next. Sometimes we have great weeks and the boys all sit and listen to us read and talk about one another. But often times, that's not the case. Usually we're reminding one to stop singing, another to please put his napkin down and the baby to stay in his chair. It may seem like they're not taking in any of it. However, be encouraged...they ARE!
A few Sundays ago Psalm 127 was read for the Old Testament reading that week in church. Isaac shot me a look and said excitedly, "Mom! Mom! That's what you read for Shabbat!" And if you were to ask either of the older two to fill in lines on any of the passages that we read, they could do it. I'm telling you that as encouragement. They've heard those passages read over and over...even though many times it doesn't seem like they're listening. It's going in. You just have to keep going. Even Joshua, this last week anticipated the Gloria Patri singing at the end and threw his hands up in the air, before anyone else, when it was time for all of us to sing. These small little glimpses of understanding will keep you going and you will be blessed with them from time to time.
Lastly, just laugh about it all. Some weeks nothing special happens and it all seems like so much work to pull off which can leave me wondering if it's worth it. Other weeks, the boys bless us so much with their humor, personalities and charm that we talk about them affectionately until we go to bed. Sowing joy and good memories around the table will only bless. So relax, smile a lot and laugh.
It's just such a mix of beauty and tough reality that really, in the end, we just have to look to the future. It's sowing time. It's not going to be perfect and we'll make more mistakes than we'll ever mean to as we seek to build our family in the Lord. We don't know what God is going to do in our children's lives but we pray that He saves them. And we hope, that we can do all that we can to sow His truth into their little souls over the long-run and that He will grab their hearts.
So no fairy tale here...just a realistic hope and longing that in the end, after years and years of toil, they'll get it and His truth will be written on their hearts. Really, what more could a parent want?