There are three things you should know about me:
- I cannot cook
- My preferred bedtime is 8:30 pm
- I would do anything for my children. Even cook for them after 8:30pm
Since my now-teens were born, I’ve had the “pleasure” of feeding them way past my bedtime. In the beginning it was a matter of life or death so my infants could grow and thrive. Once they graduated to sitting upright, feeding themselves and using their words to order what they’d like, I was advised by many to dial back feeding them at all hours and cut the crap.
Baking popcorn shrimp at 5:30am so my kindergartner could bring it for lunch or boiling macaroni as a 3rd dinner sometime after 9pm suggested to many that I was spoiling my children and caving to their every whim.
Why I Cook For My Teens
I always defended my martyrdom with, “this is such a small, precious window of time in our lives and won’t be forever.” I stirred and baked and toasted and microwaved while my eyes twitched from sleep deprivation. But I experienced the pure joy of serving (figuratively and literally) my daughter and my son.
Now they are both teens. They know how to turn the stove on and have permission to do so. Both of their bedrooms are right next to the kitchen. My son even bought a mini fridge for his room to avoid the 5 or 6 paces to get to the main one. And yet nothing has changed. I cannot cook. My preferred bedtime is still 8:30pm and I would do anything for my children, even cook for them after 8:30pm.
Many parents feel they are helping their teens become more independent when they stop doing things for them. Understandable. I think everyone should do what they are comfortable with. I’ve heard many parents accuse their high schoolers of being lazy for not making their own lunch. Again, everyone’s journey is their own.
My choice has also led to having two very independent teens who work hard all week at school, with friendships, in extracurricular activities and in their jobs. They make their own plans, know how to get around the city, book their own prep courses, manage their own bank account. They just don’t feel like going to the kitchen to get their own glass of water sometimes. Neither do I.
What I do for them is my own simple, little gesture to make them feel cared for. It makes them happy. It makes me happy.
Don’t get me wrong, while I am delivering a mug of hot chocolate to my daughter’s room as she binges Criminal Minds on her laptop and or raising a plate of chicken tenders to my son’s loft bed while he’s FaceTiming a friend, I do find myself at conflict, muttering to myself, “Here’s your f’king grilled cheese, I love you, good night!” I am human too.
Across town, I get a phone call from my mom. She’s been up since 3am cooking her 3rd generation chicken soup to fill my fridge, my brother’s fridge and her own. My mom’s kitchen looks like a factory assembly line and the brothy scent permeates my parents’ living room for at least 24 hours.
The countless hours she puts into making something to nourish her kids (something that we — her two middle-aged children — can make on our own) is spiritually nourishing as well. We feel cared for and loved with this little gesture each and every time. It’s something we will miss deeply when she’s not here someday to take care of us in this way. We enjoy the moment. She enjoys the moment. Although I know she also thinks it’s a total “pain in the ass.”
I think, “at what age should a mom stop doing for her kids?” Is that really necessary? Does it really make or break someone’s ability to grow? Who’s to say?
I meditate on how my mom’s soup production and deliveries make both my mom and me feel; mostly love, a little hate. I forge ahead reheating pizza or plating buttered toast at 11pm. “Here’s your @#$%^& prosciutto wrapped breadsticks with a side of melon slices,” I say inside my head. “Love you. Good night,” I say aloud.
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The Grown and Flown book is here! If the last parenting book you read was What to Expect When You’re Expecting, and nothing in the time since then, this is for you!
Gennifer Birnbach is an award-winning marketer and writer living in Yorktown Heights, NY with her high schoolers and husband. She spent the past 25+ years working on brands including Nickelodeon and Bravo as well as smaller businesses in her own backyard. Her company Gennifer with a G, inc affords her the flexibility to see her kids more. But now their doors are locked so it’s a case of bad timing.