A Mom's Relationship With Dinner: It's Complicated

by Tracy Wright
Originally Published: 
An angry boy in a navy and white striped shirt waiting for the dinner holding a fork and a knife

The other day, I was having some angry feelings. They were there a little bit when I woke up in the morning, but not overwhelmingly so. I made coffee, something that usually helps with all my morning feelings, and I took some chicken out of the freezer. Once you thaw that chicken—take it out of the freezer like that—you’ve made a commitment. You’re basically saying, at 8 in the morning, that you’re going to do something to that chicken 10 hours from now. You haven’t even had your morning toast yet, but you’ve got chicken on the brain. And I resented the chicken—a lot. I felt a flush, a surge, of irrational anger toward…dinner. I drank my coffee. That took my mind off the chicken for a while. Because, coffee.

As the day went on I could see the chicken there, thawing on the counter, taunting me. “You wrote chicken cordon bleu on the menu. It’s your son’s favorite. He’s been looking forward to it all week. He’s been talking about since 10 a.m. Bet you can’t wait to stuff me with some ham and cheese and roll me in breadcrumbs! By the way, you’re going to need to start prepping me in approximately three hours in order to get me into the oven on time.” Shut up, chicken. I would like to read this book here and take a nap. The anger burned brighter.

Around 4 p.m. I realized I had some serious issues that I maybe needed to work through. So I texted my friend, Keri.

Me: I just need to tell someone…I feel so unreasonably angry at dinner right now.

Keri: I’m sorry. Vent away! Tell me all about it.

Me: Dinner is so selfish. It always wants me to make it. It never makes itself.

Keri: Stupid dinner.

Me: I used to like to cook. True story. It was even on my bio on the website at the first pediatric office I worked in. So was gardening. LOL!

Keri: Haha! What would your bio say now? Oh wait, I know. At home, Tracy enjoys running, making sarcastic comments, and avoiding her children. At work, she misses her children, enjoys making (mostly HIPAA-compliant) sarcastic comments, and fighting against “the man.”

Me: YES. You know me so well.

Keri: I get you, Tracy. I really do.

I felt validated after that. And I started thinking about this complicated web of emotions that I have around dinner, trying to put my finger on where it all went wrong.

It really is true, that I used to like to cook. I used to watch Food Network, try new recipes every week, make all this stuff from scratch. I was not a “foodie” by any means, but I was a solid home cook there for a while. Then I had kids.

Let me tell you: Nothing is worse for your self-esteem as a home cook than a couple of kids. There is nothing quite like spending an hour-plus in the kitchen preparing a meal for your family, only to have everybody weeping at the table within minutes. And no, I don’t make my kids a separate meal in case you’re wondering.

You would think that they would get used to the fact that they either eat what we serve, or they don’t eat at all. But it has been nine and a half years now, and almost every night at least one of them will leave the table without eating anything at all. They would rather go to bed hungry than risk certain death from teriyaki salmon, jasmine rice, and steamed broccoli. If they don’t refuse to eat altogether, it’s almost worse, because then I get sucked into the “dessert negotiation.” This is usually my daughter’s MO:

Her: How much more do I need to eat to get dessert?

Me: All of it.

Her: (takes smallest bite possible) Can I have dessert now?

So at this point in my life, I just feel really worn down, and extraordinarily tired of dinner, and all the baggage that comes with making it, serving it, and cleaning up from it. And I am lucky enough to have a husband who works from home, so I only really have to endure dinner duty twice a week. You would think that a little distance would help with my dysfunctional relationship with dinner, but it really hasn’t. It is really dinner’s fault for this tension between us. I think dinner needs to take responsibility for some things.

Dinner is inconsiderate. It always comes between 5 and 7 p.m. This is the same time that my children lose their minds every night. I have not been successful in rescheduling my children’s meltdowns to any other consistent time of day. That is the time. So you would think that dinner could take a hint and give a girl a break while her kids are having their breakdowns. But, no, dinner can’t do that.

Dinner is time-consuming. All the planning, grocery shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up is a real schedule-buster, especially if you want to eat healthy. Don’t even get me started on how long it takes a 7-year-old to eat 1/4 cup of pasta and 2 lettuce leaves.

Dinner is never-ending. You have to make it every day. And the more you make it, the more the people who live with you expect it. And they say things like, “I’m hungry. When is dinner?” or “What’s for dinner?” so you can’t even pretend like you were just going to serve snacks and hope they don’t notice that you didn’t feel like making dinner today.

Dinner is one of the most stressful, noisy, chaotic, emotional times of the day for a parent. It is filled with whining, complaining, endless questions, messes of epic proportions, interruptions, and a ridiculous amount of potty humor.

I just need some time away from you, dinner. I can’t go on this way. You take more than you give. It’s unhealthy for me. I think a few weeks of Cheerios and toast in front of the TV would help me a lot. I just need some space.

I told my husband about all of my messy feelings toward dinner. He suggested I focus on the good things that come out of dinnertime. Who’s side is he on anyway?

I don’t know, dinner. Maybe you and I can make peace someday. Pretty sure it won’t be anytime this decade.

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