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I thought good moms make their kids’ lunches every day, but I was wrong

The first time I didn’t pack my sons’ lunches, it was a mistake. I’d had a terrible night’s rest, and sometime around 6 a.m., right after waking my kids for school, I drifted into a desperately needed deep sleep. By the time the boys, both in high school at the time, were ready to leave, I was still knee-deep in a dream.

When I actually did wake up, an hour later and to an empty house, I felt terrible. No one had ever packed my lunch past kindergarten, and I had vowed to be a better parent when my older one started school. By virtue of a brown paper bag, my sons would know what true motherly love really was. Failure to pack their sandwiches and fruit felt more like an affront to their entire childhoods. How much could I truly love my kids if I was willing to let them starve?

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Lots, it turns out.

The troubling thought occurred to me just minutes into my mental flagellation. Maybe my sons, who had lived a privileged life of homemade dinners and next-day leftovers, were old enough to start packing their lunches (gasp) by themselves?

I turned the idea over and over in my head, expecting the voice of common sense or at least maternal decency to obliterate the thought in its tracks. Nope. It just stayed and got all warm and comfortable. Before I knew it, I had my hand on my hip while I questioned every other parenting choice I made.

Why did I still wake them up for school?

Why was I still sacrificing the television in the evenings so they could play video games?

Why was I cooking meals I was sure they would eat and sacrificing my own favorites, like fish or stuff with stinky cheese?

That shit needed to quit.

When the boys came back from school that afternoon, they weren’t even hungry. My older one, then 17, told me that he easily mooched fries and half a sandwich from his gang of friends who, as it turned out, didn’t have their mommies packing their lunches. I announced the day had come when I was retiring my midday meal apron and placing the responsibility on my sons’ shoulders.

“You’re old enough to make your own lunches. I’ll always make sure there’s food in the fridge, so if you don’t want to pack something, it’s on you to come up with the money to buy.”

I steeled myself, waiting for the inevitable hurt that would flicker in their little baby brown eyes. Nothing.

“OK, cool,” my younger one said. “Can I go play drums?”

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My older one didn’t even bother to respond. He was watching a funny video while pretending he was listening to me.

Sure enough, the next day, neither kid packed his lunch. So, you know, I reminded them. Eventually they got in the groove of not packing their lunch (ever), and I learned the subtle, melodic rhythm of not giving a shit anymore, because why should I if they didn’t?

My kids were healthy, had access to more lunch meat than any normal person could want and were unwilling to step up and throw some of it between bread for themselves (I’m ignoring the time my son took a sandwich baggie full of Lucky Charms for “lunch”). I finally realized that being an awesome parent had zero to do with indentured-lunch-packing servitude. Maybe my parents knew a few things after all.

It’s now been a solid year, and I have packed just one lunch, because it was my younger child’s first day this year, and I kind of missed sending him off with the promise of nourishment in his backpack. He didn’t even eat it.

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FYI: I still wake them up every morning, try to cook only what they like to eat and scamper to my bedroom whenever I want to watch TV. Some things are harder than others to give up as a mom. Apparently school lunch wasn’t one of them.

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trips for kids
Image: Tomwang112/Getty Images

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