The American nightmare

The beginning of this piece on the myth of "easy" cooking is the most depressing thing I read this week:

I write about food for a living. Because of this, I spend more time than the average American surrounded by cooking advice and recipes. I’m also a mother, which means more often than not, when I return from work 15 minutes before bedtime, I end up feeding my 1-year-old son squares of peanut-butter toast because there was nothing in the fridge capable of being transformed into a wholesome, homemade toddler meal in a matter of minutes.

I'm sure the rest of the piece is fine and well-written, but I can't get past that opening.

You get home 15 minutes before bedtime and you have a one-year-old kid?


Look, it's not the peanut butter toast that bugs me. I confess my kids have had a fair bit of "ah-I-got-nothing-here-eat-this-grilled-cheese" dinners. Nobody here is perfect, least of all me. I have three kids, I homeschool, I write, produce documentaries and run a business, and I'm pretending to be renovating my house and cottage. Oh, and I train a lot.

I understand what "busy" means. I also understand very well what "not perfect" looks like. I'm sitting in it.

What bugs me about this opening paragraph is the lack of relationship between a mother and her baby. I know many parents who are in a situation like that, and I don't understand it. They really genuinely love their children, and they work like dogs to give those children all the best things in life. Those parents aren't bad people, they truly are doing their best. But they're missing one important thing: What kids need isn't the latest video game or the best school or any particular thing. What kids need is to develop a loving relationship with the people who matter most to them - their parents. You can't do that on 15 minutes a day. You can't do it on one hour a day. To a kid, there is no such thing as "quality" time. There's just time.

A very wise and smart man, English Conservative politician Daniel Hannan, once casually said to me that "kids spell love t-i-m-e". When he said that to me I was busy working full-time for a television station and so was my husband. We had it arranged so that one of us would always be with the kids. I worked from 5 am to noon, and he worked from home in the morning and headed into the studio after lunch. I was constantly tired and miserable because I constantly felt guilty about not being there enough for the kids. One day I had enough and quit the job.

The next morning I asked my eldest what she wanted for breakfast and she said "the usual". I had no idea what that was. It was like she'd punched me in the nose. I resolved, then and there ("then" being May of 2013), to arrange my affairs so that I would know what my babies like to eat for breakfast. Better yet, I'd arrange to make a lot of it myself. It's been more than 2 years now and while I still fall short in many ways (please don't look inside my stove or behind the piano), I am feeling reasonably confident that my relationship with my girls is roughly where it should be.

I understand the need to work at something and not "just" be a mother. I have nothing against women who decide to not pursue any outside work and devote themselves entirely to the home. I admire them, and envy their clean floors. My preference is to have some outside work as well. But I've arranged my affairs so that as a rule, the human beings in my family come before the work, not after. Sure, there are times when there's a rush and Mom has to disappear into her computer screen and the "homeschooling" that day consists primarily of watching documentaries on Netflix. But that's the exception, not the rule.

Kids don't mind eating peanut butter or grilled cheese or crackers and cereals for dinner once in a while. But never seeing your mother when you're just one year old because she's busy at the office? Now that's what I call a nightmare.

Please stop crushing your babies with academic expectations

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