The time is usually around 4:45 in the afternoon, in cities and towns all across the country, when, almost like clockwork, there’s a universal shift in consciousness that happens in the psyche of mothers in kitchens everywhere.
It usually starts sometime after our kids get home from school, as the afternoon starts to wane, and the high from their granola bar and string cheese has worn off.
It’s then that we become acutely aware of the position of the sun in the sky, and start obsessing about the inevitability that is dinnertime.
This is when things get dicey and moms everywhere start feeling the telltale symptoms of the daily phobia that grips most of us every weekday afternoon. That nagging sensation that the day isn’t quite over yet, that there’s still something big and involved and time-consuming looming out there that we ultimately have to pull together. The feeling that prompts light sweating, or a slight tension headache behind their eyes or a combination of lightheadedness and nausea that makes us just want to crawl under our comforter, knees up in the fetal position and disappear.
Yes, I’m talking about dinnerphobia.
It’s when our pulse gets quick and our breath gets shallow and our upper lip starts to bead with sweat. All because we know that mouths need to be fed and yet another dinner needs to be prepared and we’re on deck.
You know, dinner, that unavoidable time of the day when everyone descends on the kitchen, utensils in hand, their gastrocolic reflex fully stimulated, ready for food. And as the mom (or maybe the dad), it’s our responsibility to satisfy them. We’ve got to be ready. Because it’s our obligation, as parents, to come up with unique and appealing and delicious and, when possible, supremely colorful meals that everyone will enjoy. And for the average parent, that responsibility can feel like an extra fifty pounds of stress strapped to our backs unless we’re Giada De Laurentiis with a fully-stocked fake kitchen and a camera crew.
Now, even though there are plenty of different ways to pull off dinner—eating out or ordering take-out or heating leftovers or cooking an actual meal with actual ingredients—there are still some logistics involved in making it happen, regardless of how we get it done.
We’ve still got to decide on a restaurant and get there or choose which menu to order from or heat up the meatloaf or shop and prep and cook the meal or open the cereal box and pour the milk.
And day after day after week after month after year, that pressure to orchestrate dinner builds into an ugly bundle of stress that moms have to relive every single day.
OK, granted, some of us feel more stress about cooking than others. Like the parents with historically picky eaters or moms who despise cooking in general or parents who work full time and just don’t have the extra bandwidth to plan and shop and cook, for those guys, it’s tough. Really tough. So it’s understandable why dinnertime can be stressful.
For others, who don’t have those issues but maybe just aren’t fans of cooking, dinner may not be quite as intimidating, but it’s still something that needs to be considered every single day. So it’s just another thing on an already crazy-long to-do list.
And for an even smaller minority, like myself, who actually do enjoy the art of cooking and love discovering and experimenting with recipes, it still represents a chunk of time that we have to account for as we plan our day. And even that can be a buzzkill sometimes when you just feel like sliding onto the couch and watching a Cops marathon with a bag of popcorn. Alone.
So, even though there are varying degrees of dinnerphobia, we all have our moments when we just can’t stomach the thought of another dinner to prepare.
But the reality is, we’ve all gotta eat. And as parents, we’ve gotta suck it up and do the best we can, as often as we can, to plan ahead and be prepared and get the job done. And when we can’t, we have to cut ourselves some slack and not get too wrapped around the axel when the best we can do for dinner is a PB&J or a couple of sunny side-up eggs or a bowl of oatmeal.
Dinnerphobia is real, people. And it lives in the minds and kitchens of moms everywhere. Every day. And the only way to manage it is to remember that our fear of making dinner can’t hurt us, only starvation can.
So, get it done. Whatever way you can. And remember that there are plenty of meal replacement bars on the market that have 20+ grams of protein in them. And no one’s judging.
For more from Lisa Sugarman, visit LisaSugarman.com and Twitter and click here for an exclusive offer to pre-order her upcoming book Untying Parent Anxiety.