Several years ago, my family and I participated in a year-long experiment during which we were given access to experts in health, nutrition, organization and exercise to see if we could change our lifestyle to a more active, healthy one. During one of our many meetings with the nutrition team, we talked about family dinners.
I shared with the experts my hatred for cooking every night. “I’m so busy,” I told them. “I can barely feed myself let alone feed these other people who live in my house.” I resented everything that went into making those meals and I especially resented the complaining. We all like different things and calling my kids picky is like calling the Great Wall of China a backyard fence. Add in my daughter’s sensory issues from OCD, and I was stick-a-fork-in-me done, done, done with dinner. Yet, I persisted in this tyrannical cycle because, you know, that’s what good mothers do.
Good mothers make a home-cooked dinner — preferably in an apron and with giant smiles on their faces. Right? Wrong, our team told us. If getting us all at the table to eat a meal was stressing me out, it wasn’t worth it. Instead of forcing myself to conform to some ideal I had in my head, they suggested we get takeout and eat it together, or throw together some sandwiches or serve cold cereal.
It was the most liberating thing anyone has ever said to me, and it turns out I’m not alone. A recent study out of North Carolina State University surveyed 150 mothers and the results revealed that making a home-cooked meal every night is a burden to many women. Like me, these women bought into the idea that homemade food served between 5 and 7 p.m. at a table was what good moms do.
Once I had permission to stop killing myself over a hot stove every day, I took a step back and really looked at how the evening meal affected my entire life. Not only was I the only one who ever cooked from scratch (my husband is very good at using the microwave), I also did all the planning, all the food shopping and made everyone’s dinner and lunch — even on weekends. That set a truly terrible example for my daughter and, especially, for my young son.
I am very proud at how my husband and I handle the division of labor in our home, with the exception of meals. In this one area, we provided an outmoded, anti-feminist example. Mom cooks, mom gets dinner on the table by 5:30 p.m. and we all sit down to eat, and if we don’t, it’s the end of the world. I was killing myself to make it happen. I don’t do that anymore and we’re all happier. And, I can assure you, no one ever goes hungry.