I’m fed up with cooking for my grown-up sons living at home

'I have lots of other things I'd rather do with my time', writes our reader - R.Fresson/A Human Agency

Dear A&E,

I am fed up with my sons, 22 and 24, who are still living at home. They are resentful that I don’t cook big Sunday roasts anymore. In fact, they are constantly nagging me about food and asking ‘What’s for dinner?’. I don’t want to cook for them, nor my husband for that matter and I don’t see why I should – I’ve done my time. Frankly, I don’t really care about food – I just want it to be easy – and have lots of other things I’d rather do with my time. Like work, exercise, telly and drinking wine. Am I being unreasonable?

– Love, Refusenik

Dear Refusenik,

Are you being unreasonable? No… crack on! But perhaps we should show you our workings and give you something to discuss with the three humans who live with you in your house. We nearly said three grown men but we didn’t want to be inflammatory.

There are those who love cooking; find nothing more joyful than watching those they love eating something delicious they’ve just rustled up over the course of three hours of sweating and planning. Some even find it relaxing. At this point Emilie is rolling her eyes. She falls into the other camp. She was raised by a single working mother in the 1980s and can still taste the M&S sweet and sour pork. Cooking for her is catering. Mostly she looks at the fridge in despair. Annabel falls into a different category, where we suspect you might also live. Annabel used to adore cooking. Everything from her kitchen was infused with love. And now? Everything is cooked with a kind of defeated drudgery. If it is cooked at all.

It doesn’t help that the world has become food-obsessed: where people used to expect to be fed, they now expect to be ‘beautifully’ fed. Food porn is everywhere. You can’t move for the suggestion that something exquisitely edible is just at your fingertips if only you had thai basil, an air fryer and home-reared chickens. It also doesn’t help that you have probably spent the best part of 25 years feeling hysterical about whether you were feeding your sons conscientiously enough: from the baby purées to the weening calendars, to the ‘eat your greens’ and ‘try this oily fish’ to the endless-restocking of the fridge to the perennial search for healthy snacks.

You may have mismanaged their expectations by being a diligent home cook. You have cooked yourself into a corner but now it’s time to take your medal, goodness you’ve earned it, and get to your wine and boxsets. You are going to have wean them off your cooking.

Your sons will find it challenging to process the idea that you don’t want to lovingly prepare meals for them, because this is what you have always done. No one likes change. People find change unnerving, destabilising and will often kick back against it – hence their resentment over the roast dinners; an anchor in their weekend. Your reluctance in the kitchen is probably igniting their subconscious panic, because it means that they are going to have to change. They are going to have to launch themselves into the world and stand in their own two kitchens.

You could put your flag in the mash and say ‘done’; we know plenty of working women who, exhausted by all the washing, cleaning and catering, simply went on strike.

Or you could get busy with the planning, which is probably the most humane way to operate. Sit your sons and husband (let’s not forget him!) and establish a rota, which will bore everyone senseless but might work and will develop its own rhythm. You could just fill the fridge with easy stuff and let them get on with it, but we wouldn’t recommend a situation where you are eating separately from your husband every night.

There are excellent food delivery boxes such as Hello Fresh and Gousto that will allow your sons some kitchen-independence as well as imbuing them with confidence because the recipes are clear and all of the elements (including the slightly scary ones like star anise etc) are provided, so there’s no ingredient-anxiety.

Most importantly, it might be time to have a loving conversation with your boys, making it clear that, while you no longer want to cook for them day in, day out, it’s not a sign that you no longer love them. Remind them that you love them more than any other creatures on the planet, but that cooking is not caring. Conversation is caring, quality time is caring, sharing experiences is caring. In the same way that people confuse money with personal value, people can confuse cooking with love. You putting a plate of food in front of them is not nurturing at this point, it’s fuel and it is probably time for them to fuel themselves. From now on, lean into the emotional nourishment, dear Refusnik. And enjoy that Sunday 12pm pilates class.


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