No longer sorry


I saw this on Pinterest today and it spoke to me.

A few days ago the Brat walked in with a recipe book he’d borrowed from a friend’s mother. The OA and I took one look at him carrying a book bigger than his body and fell over laughing. But here’s the truth – he loves food and he wants to learn to cook.

This brings us to an uncomfortable situation. I am home more often than the OA and most often it is I, tossing up a salad or a sandwich for a quick meal. And so naturally the kids are drawn to watch me cooking. If it’s on a slow day, I’m tolerant of their presence in the kitchen. If not, I tell them to get the hell out of my way if they want anything to eat, because I have to get back to work.

The OA on the other hand, enjoys cooking and encourages them to join him in the kitchen. Having the disadvantage of only recently taking up cooking as an interest, he watches and records hours of food programming and even after all these years, doesn’t know as much about food as I do, theoretically. How did this come about?

I grew up with a feminist grandmother who didn’t believe every woman needed to know how to cook. What every woman should know, she’d often say, is how to earn. And once you’re capable of supporting yourself, you can decide if you want to cook or hire a cook. And so she, my mother (who is a superb cook) and I, hired cooks and went out to work.

But no matter what your family environment, there is no denying social pressure on a woman to cook. My in laws were horrified that their son had not married a Havell’s appliance (please see the series of advertisements here if you haven’t already – they’re fantastic). And I cannot begin to count the number of women in my own generation who felt there was something wrong with a woman who didn’t enjoy cooking, didn’t feel her heart burst with joy at the thought of homecooked meals for her children and didn’t rush to pour out hot dosas every time a belly somewhere growled.

I was young and gave in to pressure easily so I bought recipe books, and cooked when I got a chance (less than most others because wild horses were usually required to drag me to the kitchen) and even joined cooking e-groups etc for the tips. I am now a competent cook, guests expect a fairly good table at my place and I know a good deal about cooking – but I still hate the drudgery of it. Still get tired thinking of even brewing a cup of tea, still hate joining conversations on methods of layering a biryani.

At some point I realised that the OA too, was fighting his own demons. He had a love for food and cooking that had never been discovered or encouraged. He’d walk into the kitchen while I was cooking and try to be helpful, end up bossing me around (because of course I *was* doing something wrong) and be sent off with a sting in the ear for his pains. And so I established a tradition – he began to cook our Diwali family dinner. It started out pure vegetarian, the entire family revolted and the next year it was beer batter fish. Over the last year as the kids have grown and he has more time on hand, he’s been cooking more and more and I’ve eased out of the kitchen almost entirely. The kids make their own sandwiches, the cook does the daily fare and if the OA wants something fancy, he makes it.

It took me years to get to this point where I could back out of what is a traditional female role and encourage the OA to step up to the plate and do what he enjoys doing. The patriarchy screwed us both over and yet we took so long to make this handover. It wasn’t easy watching the cook begin to take orders from him, guests turning to him to ask what was on the menu, and the kids coming to him with their requests. Particularly because working or SAHM, mums run the kitchen in most homes – I felt like a bit of a failure even though I hated the chore to begin with. I continue to handle the day to day running of our home since I work from home, stepping in when the cook is absent. But on the whole, if someone comes in bursting with the excitement over something they want to eat, they know who to take that excitement to, and its certainly not me.

And so it was that the Brat staggered in with his massive recipe book and a demand that we cook something out of it. I looked at him with deep love and much affection and said – You have to be joking if you think Mama is getting up to cook complicated stuff.

And sure enough, he and the Bean nodded and turned to their father, taking it in their stride. ‘Oh yes, Mama dislikes cooking and finds it boring. Dada, you enjoy it, so lets plan a meal. Anyway, you’re the cooker in this house. Mama is the doctor.’

And the three of them bent their heads and began to pore over the book. I turned back to work and heaved a sigh of relief. It is done. I am no longer the default cook in this home. And the next generation has already come to accept home cooked food as Papa ke haanth ka khaana and not Ma ke haanth ka khaana.

I feel a twinge of something and suppress it. I think it is social conditioning calling and I’m not home to receive it. It really was this easy and if only I’d stopped fighting my limits some years ago, I’d have not wasted time making elaborate meals and trying to ‘fit in.’

I’m off to sign off the cooking groups and sign up for a few more on my interests. When I get home, there’ll be a hot meal cooked by husband and kids awaiting me. Life is good.


34 thoughts on “No longer sorry

  1. Good for you and the OA, but by now we expect this of you guys. Next step – getting the sun to shine from you-know-where! 🙂 (*runs*)

    But, from anecdata – this whole women-must-LOVE-cooking attitude is new(ish). Even in my grandmother’s generation, the logic was that cooking fell into women’s domain not because it was interesting but because it was drudgery – and there were plenty of women in that generation who disliked cooking but had to do it anyway, that’s all. My own grandmother, grandmother-in-law, at least two aunts and even my mother all treat(ed) cooking as a necessary evil. Given that they did it for a long time, most of them were very good cooks, but they were utterly disinterested in learning new dishes or going beyond their core competencies. Both my brother and I are competent cooks, but my husband is the adventurous one here – and like the OA, he is the one the kids turn to for special stuff – I’m happy to taste test and stuff myself silly. As a teen, my grandmother seriously advised me to learn how to instruct a cook well, and how to run the kitchen (manage the cook) – since, in her opinion, that was the more important skill 🙂

  2. This resonates with me on so many levels. In my house, my husband and I both LOVE to cook – both trying new recipes and making old favorites. Through the week, I end up cooking dinner because I get home about 30 minutes before he does. On the weekends, he loves to cook and sometimes tries new recipes. I usually kick back and watch tv or read a book while he’s cooking up a storm.
    What usually happens is that we end up face-timing with the parents on the weekends (and he’s usually cooking then) So my folks are convinced that he’s the one cooking all the time and I get frequently teased about it. Initially, this used to really bother me – I used to actually feel guilty that he was cooking almost all weekend while I relaxed. Until I realized that it was all social conditioning – the man loves to cook (and I’d like to add that he loves to cook for me). So I started responding – every time someone points out that the husband seems to be the cook in our house, I would respond with a speech on division of labor/we both like to cook and we take turns.

    I also feel like this kind of social conditioning hits men hard too – how many men with a love for food are really allowed to take center stage in kitchens? Most of the time either the mother or the wife wouldn’t be able to handle giving over control. I refuse to be that person. Every now and then, a twinge of something hits me and I whine to the husband about it. He gives me a book, bans me from the kitchen and continues cooking.

    I think this works for us. I’d like to see my kids raised in a house where both parents can cook them a healthy and tasty meal 🙂 Cheers to slowly shedding this kind of conditioning! 🙂

    P.S. Apologies for the long comment – I just ended up having so much to say!

    • I so know what I mean! I feel guilty too when the husband is making dosas for me and the MIL comes over. This, after having cooked healthy food for one whole week and relaxing only over the weekend. Plus the husband insisting that I should relax and enjoy hot food at least once in a while. Such is my luck, people usually come home when the OH is cooking and they assume that it is he who cooks every day. I am often the butt of jokes for this very reason. I guess it will take me time to learn not to pay any heed to these jokes.

      • Ahh! I am glad to know I have some company. I share the same luck as you both. Hubby loves cooking and it so happens that every time we have guests at home, he is the one who is usually cooking. And what a luck, when the same guests come home for the 2nd, 3rd & 4th time, they always find “the husband” in the kitchen. Since I freelance, most of them question, “What do you do at home then?” “I eat,” is my standard answer.

  3. Help me out here MM. In my house I do all the cooking (which isnt much, about 3 or 4 times a week). I work full time. Husband wont do a thing and I have tried yelling, to blackmail, to plain leaving the house squalid, nothing moves the man. But leaving his non-participation aside and just dealing with how I can retain my sanity, what do I do? I cant hike a cook in the country that I live in. My parents say, just eat out if you dont feel like cooking. Which I can do, but I am stubborn in wanting him to participate. And its driving me nuts! And I am finding it so difficult to change my expectations of him. He doesnt expect me to cook. But I expect him to cook atleast a couple times a week.

    • What country do you live in? Perhaps cooks cost the earth there? Try and hire them. See if your husband responds to the dent in your combined pocket?

  4. My husband loves to cook too and I let him. Before kids, we usually had turns – the one who did not cook got to workout at the gym. I end up doing a bit more coz I love it myself, but when the drudgery gets to me, I happily pass it on to him. Kids will ask for meals from either. It’s just normal to me….glad I have more in my camp :)!

  5. Interesting post. Made me go back and revisit a post I wrote in Dec 2009 along the same lines. It talked of social conditioning and Equality between men and women and hypocrisy. You have just picked the eg. of cooking for role reversal and that actually paints a beautiful picture as we are at a time and phase when many men do a lot in the kitchen. But if we were to extend the role reversal to other aspects of life, it gets trickier and more challenging. The comments on my post back then were so honest and quite interesting.…most women seemed to believe that their men should do what men do ( in addition to being a great partner and chiming in as required for what is traditionally considered a woman’s job), whereas the guys seemed to support role reversal.

  6. You just told my life-story, MM :). I cook because we have to eat something, whereas the husband cooks because he loves it. It is such a joy watching him in the kitchen. The MIL, however, is horrified that her son knows his way to the kitchen and prides in saying that her elder son does not do anything even remotely related to cooking (other than eating).

    My husband always tells me how he would have loved to do hotel management or something along those lines, but that he had to follow his dad’s choice. Our 7-year old son is already coming up with his own recipes (not my genes! :D) and I am mighty pleased and totally impressed. And we make sure that we give him maximum support and encouragement.

    I hope people won’t take it in the wrong sense, but I just had to add this – the fact that I am not living in India is making my life easier. The number of people expecting explanations is almost nil.

  7. The bleddy problem is our house is no one likes to cook. My mom does ofcourse but neither the husband nor I like cooking! We end up bickering a little over it, but it’s social conditioning all over. Weekdays mom does most of the prep and I do the putting together. Weekends I do cook but then we eat out or socialize, so it’s ok. But it does somewhere bother me that even though I hate cooking I’m still expected to be the default provider. Ditto with kids laundry and clean house. Hubby puts away some things but mainly its after mumbling and grumbling about how the house is “never” clean (causes me to flare up ofcourse)

    It’s been better recent times since Mom helps out quite a bit with cooking atleast, but when I was a SAHM – horror. I would feel like I had to cook to earn my stay. And clean the house. And put away things. And instruct the maid. And take care of the kids. Patriarchy is forcing women to work outside the house in order to escape it’s effect, quite the opposite of what it set to achieve eh?

  8. LOVE this post. More power to you! 🙂 I know how difficult it is to break social conditioning in your mind, so can totally relate.

    I love to cook, and I am home most of the time, so it is usually me who cooks at our place. The OH likes cooking too and knows how to cook, so he takes up on the days when he wants to or when I am unable to. That has worked for us so far.

  9. I’m just starting to get into cooking and I like the feeling that comes from being able to put a meal on the table. I love make cakes and fancy salads and tequila lime grilled chicken, but I think more than anything I like that I don’t *have* to cook for my family. That I can just make these little extras that make a meal special.

    God forbid, I have to do the ‘roz ka dal chawal’ type of food, I think I may just chop a hand off to avoid it!

  10. “I felt like a bit of a failure even though I hated the chore to begin with.”

    I can so relate to that. I’ve gotten over it by now, though. I simply do it as a chore that needs to be done, ask for the hubs’ help when possible, and *try* to get him to do other tedious chores, instead. Still trying to reach the 50% contribution per head mark in this household… we’ve made some progress over the years, but it seems like I’m going to be all grayed-out before we reach that median. 😉

  11. Youre right — patriarchy screws our men over in so many ways too. VC loves to cook, and social conditioning plus the control freak that I am doesn’t allow him to indulge in it as much as he’d like to.
    I *do* enjoy being the one to put out a good meal, and having a hot dinner ready when he comes home from work. There might be some social conditioning in there, but I really love the process of putting it together, but I realised of late that the times he wants to do it for me, I don’t welcome the idea with ease. Time to loosen the strings on this straightjacket.

  12. Hi MM, I enjoy cooking but my husband is a better cook and usually on Saturdays I curl up with a book and he does the cooking and my children (both daughters) are used to seeing this and also since most of the time he works from home, and I am late than usual in reaching home he does the cooking and my daughters does not differentiate at all in approaching either of us to satisfy their hunger pangs, but the point I am coming to is, many times I am scared that what if my daughters get married into families/ husband who are strangers to this and who holds men entering kitchen as taboo, my children will have a tought ime, for them it is no big deal that Papa cooks… so as you said I hope by the time they are grown up and ready to settle down, things change and they will not have to be sorry for coming from such a house… well sorry for such a long comment .. but this is really something always there at the back of my mind.. it shows how much we are all conditioned to think in a certain way and are still scared though we try and change things around or has got lucky enough to be having understanding life partners and in laws…
    take care

  13. I think part of it is that ma ka haath ka Khana is traditionally associated with love and comfort. That feeling of knowing and being at home. I know for me it is, but for Evs it’s actually his dad’s cooking he loves (also coz his dad is a chef hahah) and he too has the cooking madness. I love cooking healthy and quick because that’s what interests me more, but Evs loves the process and the involvement.

    That twinge, I took it as wanting maybe a part of you to have the kids remember you as the comfort – I know I feel it sometimes. But I also take huge relief in knowing that they too might look back and think yep – love mums’s pumpkin soup but dad’s spaghetti is home to me.

  14. I like to cook and many times I love it. I am also a health nut so in an OCD way like knowing what went in my kids food. My husband is not so great at it and it creates a lot of anxiety for him. So in this regard we fall into gender stereotypes. So I am the reverse of you where I am did this happen in my feminist household. But I see him – giving me my coffee in bed every single day, making the kids (simple) breakfast, changing diapers, doing the laundry, buying my daughter’s clothes and no…none of my feminism has taken a beating. Sadly, this can work in reverse too. The main thing women are conditioned in is guilt….over everything.

  15. Thinking aloud, I think many men love to cook because it is not expected of them. It’s one thing to cook special meals on weekends, holidays, special occasions, do experimenting etc. You could love cooking if this is the only expectation. It’s the daily rigor of ‘what to cook today’, stuff to buy and keep stock of, check that there are healthy meals everyday, fresh meals that meet every expectation – it’s this that takes most of our love out of cooking and turns it into drudgery. How many men would love to cook if it’s something they needed to do every single day? I love cooking and baking myself but I don’t need to do it regularly at my place. I split chores with my mil or my husband since we all stay together. I’m not sure how much of my cooking/baking love would remain if I were the only one that had to put every single meal together.

  16. And more power to you – please stop feeling sorry for not being interested in cooking. Not even small tinges of guilt anymore!

  17. I have come to slowly like putting together a meal for the family and esp. the son over the years. Recall being horrified in the beginning days or marriage when it dawned on me that neither the husband now I knew how to even pressure cook something. Husband did of course know how to stir fry maggie with a bunch of msg laden bottled sauces but one couldn’t live on that forever. But yes there is drudgery involved when it has to be done several times or every day of the week which I sometimes resent. But but but….I hate driving the critter around….hate doing laundry…hate loading dishwasher…..hate vacuuming……hate looking after the dog…..hate grocery shopping(unless it’s visiting pretty farmer’s markets:-)) and hate socializing with parents at school or attending PT conferences….all of which the husband does very happily. So having chosen the lesser of all *evils* in the chores-of-life department we’re in the I’m-ok-you’re-ok state:-) Now of course we have someone to come in and cook because I’m weak most of the time to do even that but I’d still choose to do the cooking once I’m better.

    And how cute is it that the brattie wants to cook and he will learn from his Dad. Very.

  18. In our case, I like cooking- but, on occasions and not when it is expected as a chore. The man also loves to cook when he gets time. However, the fact that he cooks and can turn up kick-ass dishes and doles out wayy better dosais that me needs to be underplayed (and literally treated as secret) with his parents. He believes that his parents would be horrified by the thought of knowing his comfort with cooking (perhaps also blame on the girl who has changed him as well). Am glad that you have been able to comfortably switch the roles and get over what the darned society demands. I do hope that we get there by the time we have kids as old as B&B :-).

  19. Hahn, same here, though I discovered this long ago. I tried cooking a bit when I got married, realised that I got super anxious and flustered and unhappy with the results, while husband could do it easy peasy and got a lot of pleasure out of it as well. So I left it to him and took on other stuff.

    But it’s always been a niggling guilt thing and also cause of some social awkwardness, such as gatherings particularly of kind in mother-in-laws house where all women go into the kitchen and I’m as inept in there as the average man. And in times of marital stress, this thing does get thrown back at one.

  20. There is a lot of BS that goes around:

    Doubt does not mean no. It simply says, “I do not know, and I am prepared to know. I am ready to go as far as possible, but unless I myself come to know, how can I say yes?” Doubt is an open mind, without any prejudice. It is an inquiring approach.

    Negativity has already said no. It is not inquiry. It has come to a conclusion, the same way somebody has come to the conclusion to say yes. One man says God is; his statement is positive.

    The other says there is no God; his statement is negative. But both are sailing in the same boat, they are not different people. They have not inquired.

    Neither the theist has doubted nor the atheist has doubted; both have accepted borrowed knowledge. — from The God Conspiracy

  21. Happy New Year

    While it is absurd to reject medical science, the principal factor in overcoming illness is the patient and his or her “life force.” In medical terms, it is our capacity to heal ourselves. Life force is a mystic phenomenon that transcends human understanding.

  22. Hi MM

    Wish you and the Mad family a Happy , healthy, peaceful and fantastic 2015….

    Haven’t seen an update for a really long time… not even fro X’mas or New Year’s. I’m hoping you are just busy doing happy and good things, or finally pregnant with your 3rd baby 😉 lol ! Take care and looking forward to hear from you soon!

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