Okay, I admit it. I chose this title to catch your attention. Some good moms certainly do cook—and even enjoy it. And most mothers are going to cook at one point or another.
But it is also true that some good mothers don’t cook. Or at least don’t cook regularly. I have become one of those mothers.
And I am a better mother now that I don’t cook. (Well, now that I don’t cook very much.)
If you don’t believe me, ask my 17-year-old son. He will likely tell you about the day when I tried to force him to eat a metal roasting pan for dinner—and like it.
It was not my best moment.
It happened on a Sunday evening, and the truth is that on this particular day I should have seen it coming. I arrived home at about 3:00 in the afternoon from a training focused on addressing racism and white privilege—work that always hits close to home for me as a white mother of bi-racial children.
I am emotionally quite sensitive, and doing work that matters to me can wipe me out more than it does the average person. I know this about myself, and I know what I need to do to recover and heal from challenging emotional events. I need to journal, maybe take a bath, or nap, or go for a walk near woods or water.
But, on this day, I did not act as if I knew what I needed.
Instead, I came home and cooked (a task that I don’t like and am not particularly good at.) Why? Because I was the only adult in the household, because I had already thawed some meat and didn’t want to waste it, and because I wanted my son to have a healthy dinner. I believed that I should cook. I thought I had to cook.
That wasn’t true, of course. You can see this, I imagine. I had choices. I could have, for example, let the meat go to waste and served Eggo waffles for dinner, so I could rest and be ready for whatever teenage challenges lay ahead.
But I didn’t see that option because to do so would have challenged at least two deeply ingrained beliefs that blinded me to the possibility:
1) Good people don’t waste money (or food) and…
2) Good mothers cook healthy meals for their children—and do all kinds of other nurturing, homemaking tasks like cleaning, playing with children, buying birthday party gifts, etc.—whether or not they want to.
You can see that my reasons for cooking on that day weren’t bad. Right? That’ wasn’t the problem.
The problem was that I really didn’t have it in me to meet these standards of perfect-mom-and-good-steward-of-resources goodness in this moment. I tried to pretend that I did, but I didn’t. Fast forward a few hours and if you were a fly on my wall (or my husband on the other side of the country) you’d see (or hear) me launching into a screaming tirade because my son didn’t like his dinner.
In truth, what my son didn’t like was not actually the food itself, but the fact that parts of the pan I was using to roast the potatoes had attached to the potatoes themselves!
Yes. You read that right. I wanted my son to EAT AND ENJOY potatoes thoughtfully flavored with a likely-toxic sprinkling of roasting pan coating.
When he mentioned that the potatoes didn’t taste quite right—noting the unusual coating—I seriously lost my mind.
You’ve never done anything like that have you? Lost your temper at someone you love because they didn’t appreciate the hard work you did to make them SO HAPPY – only they didn’t end up SO HAPPY and it totally grated on your LAST NERVE?
You get it, right? That my son was supposed to like his dinner because I had used the last dregs of my soul-energy to make it. He was supposed to be grateful and happy in order to make my suffering worthwhile. Truth was, I needed him to be happy and grateful.
But, as you may have noticed, he did not go along with my plan. And I threw a temper tantrum.
I’m sharing this story with you, whether you’re a parent or not, in the hopes that it might help you to avoid your own spectacular failure at truly loving the students in your classroom, the kids in your house, your best friend, or your spouse.
Because the gift of this fabulous parenting failure for me was that it was so glaringly ridiculous that it stopped me in my tracks. And here’s what I learned in that moment…well, several moments later once I regained some level of sanity.
I learned that the phrase, “You should be grateful!” – whether said out loud or just in our heads… it’s a big, huge, gleaming red STOP SIGN.
It shows us where we’ve gotten way off track.
In my case, it showed me that I’d tried to fit into a role that didn’t work for me. It showed me that I’d given something I didn’t have to give. I’d bought into a “should” that didn’t actually align with who I’m meant to be in the world – or who I actually was in that moment.
And I didn’t need thanks to make it better. I needed to pause, and find a new way forward.
Does this ever happen to you? Do you ever hear yourself saying, “You should be grateful!” (in your head or outloud) – to someone who clearly is not?
Just in case you do, here are some new ways forward I’ve been experimenting with:
Sometimes now, when I feel anger or resentment rising towards my ungrateful kids (or co-workers, bosses, or partner)—I manage to pause. I assume that this rising anger is a gift to me, a warning sign coming to alert me that I am off track. I’ve found that anger is a great friend when we listen to it.
I walk away if I need to. I take a deep breath and try to figure out when it was that I gave what I did not want to give or maybe what I wanted to give, but just didn’t have the ability to give in that moment.
When I can grab a moment, I reflect or journal for a bit looking for that “should” that’s usually lurking in the back behind the choices I’ve made. I look for the place where I decided I didn’t have a choice. Where I thought I “had” to do whatever it was. Once I found it, I get curious about this “truth.” I ask myself:
o Where did this “should” come from?
o Is this belief really helping me to be the kind of parent/friend/co-worker/partner I want to be?
o Did I think I had no choice? (Because we always have a choice. We may not like the alternatives, but we always have a choice.)
o What might I do differently if I thought I had other options?
o What other options might there be?
Sometimes, if I am very brave, I admit to myself and others what my needs are (even if they seem ridiculous) and I figure out new ways to meet them. This is actually the real key – and it goes against SO MANY of our cultural narratives about what it means to be a mom (or a good teacher or a good woman, for that matter – more about that next week.)
Often, when I follow the above path I find I can meet my own needs along with meeting the needs of other people. Sometimes, I can’t and I have to trust that they can get their needs met in other ways. Or, in the case of children I’m responsible for, I have to request the help of others.
After the above incident stopped me in my tracks, I experimented with a new option I hadn’t considered to be possible before: I started paying for some help with cooking, despite tight finances. And it really did make all the difference in my ability to love my teenager during a tough year for both of us.
For you, it might not be cooking and you might not even be a parent, but I wonder, do you have any “shoulds” you’d like some relief from?
Clues that you’ve found one include:
The words “I can’t” or “I have to,” as in, “I have to make homemade birthday cakes.” Or “I can’t tell my friend I don’t want to go to her party!”
Areas where you feel resentment, but keep doing the task regularly anyway.
Responsibilities that drain you more than you’d like to admit, that seem to take more out of you than seems reasonable.
Areas where you are harshly critical (or jealous) of the choices others make.
Want to try your own experiment in living without your “shoulds” to see whether self-care and compassion works as well as—or better than—self-sacrifice in supporting your efforts at being a force for love and justice in the world?
I highly recommended it. It’s just an experiment, after all. And if you can’t even imagine how you’d begin – I’d love to help. I have just two 1:1 spaces available for new clients starting in January. I especially love working with Moms who want more out of their lives, but can’t quite see the way to get there. If that’s you, shoot me an email or just get on my calendar for a strategy session.
No pressure at all. I promise. I only want to work with you if it’s the right fit for both of us. Shoot me an email at email@example.com and let me know what you’re hoping for —for yourself— in 2019.
What have you got to lose?
Here’s to thriving!