My friend is a single, working mother of three, juggling the standard insanity of divorced life. I call her from time to time to sympathize with a ‘wine and whine’ session. On one such call, I heard background noise, and asked her what she was doing.

“Making lunches.”

“What?! What are you doing that for?”

“Well money is tight, and cafeteria food is kind of nasty…”

“No. I mean, why are YOU making lunch? They should make it themselves!”

I admit, I used to be that Mom. When my daughter started kindergarten, I thought it was in my job description to create a beautiful, nutritious, and fun, Mom-made lunch, complete with a loving, hand-written note. About a month in, I noticed the lunches were coming home half eaten, and eventually barely eaten at all. And if there is one thing that burns my grits, it’s wasting food. “I didn’t want that today,” she would state, as if it justified throwing my effort in the trash.

Oh no. That was the end of that.

I dragged the step stool over to the counter, handed her a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a butter knife. “Sandwich 101” complete, it became her nightly job to assemble her meal. At first, she loved the responsibility, but eventually, it got old. The first time she announced, “I don’t want to make my lunch tonight!” I had one thing to say to her in rebuttal: “Do you want to eat it?” Likewise, the night before my son started school, he was put through the same orientation; though, he has had many more tantrums and threatened strikes over this particular item in his job description. And yet I have never wavered: if you want to eat a lunch at school, you had better learn how to feed thyself.

I would like to think that this has benefited my children in several ways, and not just in giving me more uninterrupted wine time after dinner. It brings ritual to the end of their day and prepares them for the next one. And, it gives them an appreciation for the time and effort that goes into the doing of things. Kind of like what happened this weekend, when my son asked for pancakes for the 500th weekend in a row and I had him make them from start to finish, including washing the dishes (I think it’s safe to say that pancake requests will be decreasing for a while).

Lest you think my kids just pack 4 desserts and a soda every day, there are boundaries: I still control the food that comes into the house, their lunch has to pass inspection, and I get to make changes if I deem them necessary. It may sound like I am the Soup Nazi, but I’m not. I want them be as autonomous as possible. By now, they are comfortable in the kitchen they make meals for themselves. In spite of their periodic bitching, I think they love knowing that they can fend for themselves and help out their family.

Back to my friend: when asked why she didn’t have her children make their own lunches, she defended herself, saying that liked doing it. And I let her off the hook, because maybe that’s true. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be sharing custody, and perhaps this is the way that she loves on her kids that little bit extra to keep them when they are not with her. I will continue to love on my kids by empowering them to be independent. Every day when they eat that lunch, they can think with pride, “I made this!”

Or, if they think, “I didn’t want this,” they can complain to the only person who gives a shit.


About the author: Ashley is a hyper-flexible mother of two bouncing (literally) kids. A lack of collagen has left them the world’s worst Superheros (but don’t tell them that). She writes about the wacky things that their syndrome has taught her family, and tries to keep everyone chuckling. You can read more at The Incredible Adventures of Malleable Mom and you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.


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  1. It’s strange, you know. After six years of my son making his own breakfasts and lunches, I started making my HIGH SCHOOLER breakfast again, and occasionally throw some fruit in a brown paper lunch sack for him. What I figured out was, he would skip breakfast because he wakes up too late and not make himself a lunch because…whatever the reason that 17 year olds do or don’t do anything is.

    When I would pick him up from school at four in the afternoon (and it takes us another half hour to get home) he wouldn’t have eaten anything yet that day! He’s starting to get the idea now – he will even pack himself a couple of sandwiches before leaving for his dad’s on Thursday nights to take with him to school on Friday mornings. But I still make him a breakfast smoothie (since I’m making them for myself anyway). It’s a tough job helping a kid become responsible. I think – good for you! 🙂

  2. Oh yeah, my mom had us packing our own lunches at a young age. I plan to do the same with my kids, but you know what they say about plans…

  3. I don’t know if my mom made my lunches when I was younger (I was usually a hot lunch kid), but I know that we had a lot of “fend for yourself” nights when it came to dinner. I learned to cook mac and cheese and hot dogs and to microwave shit. My dad worked a lot of nights and when he wasn’t working, Mom was…so we would have some family meals, but not all the time. And that was okay.

  4. This is awesome! We need to teach our kids these life skills, and I often think we underestimate their abilities. Good for you for encouraging this responsibility and behavior.

  5. I am such a control freak that letting my daughter do this will test me. MY KITCHEN. Oh GOD, the knife is going in the sink the wrong way! BUT, it’s so necessary and enabling for them. I *did* let her slice a banana the other day for me. Baby steps, man. Baby steps. (PS – great column!)

    • I’m with you Brooke! Believe me, I have scars on my palms and my tongue from the restraint! But that’s what booze is for. There’s a reason I have them make their lunch AT NIGHT.

  6. I’m with you on this one! I’m a single working mom, and you bet my kid makes his own lunch!

    He’s “gifted,” he can put turkey on a damn roll!

    Great post.

  7. I packed every lunch, every single day 🙁 Back then, everything available at school, when that actually happened was disgusting. I have two boys and can only imagine the choices they would have made, lol. I think it’s great to teach them young! When either of my grown kids comes over, it’s “Mom, will you fix me something to eat?” Hahahaha. They never grow up!

  8. From a different perspective: I work in an employee Bistro. Many of my lunch customers are people who have packed their lunch in the morning. Somehow food that looks good early in the a.m. loses its appeal by lunchtime. It’s not a phenomenon unique to kids.
    However, I applaud your teaching independence to your children. There is real power in knowing that you can take care of yourself.

  9. Fantastic idea. Have just started with my older…although peanut butter is a no no these days.

  10. Love this post! My 4-year old can fix himself breakfast, including homemade oatmeal. My older boys pack their snack (no pre package shit either) and help pack lunch every night They also help clean the kitchen after dinner, wash pots, and can wash clothes. I think I do a damn good job of teaching independence, love hearing other mothers do the same 🙂

  11. how much fun! I always make lunches in the house. I think it is cuz I make the dad’s lunch and making two more wasn’t that big of a deal. Oddly, they have washed and taken care of their own clothes since they were in 3rd or 4th grade, they packed for themselves (I did make sure they added socks and uns..although, there was one trip DAD forgot to pack shirts…), and the boys can cook. Even now, I make lunch for the 21 year old when he comes home for his half hour break. I think it is the whole MY kitchen attitude. I, however, do encourage independence, especially in boys.

  12. I plan on this with my kids but I was too stubborn. If my lunch wasn’t made for me I didn’t eat it. Simple. I never ever made lunch. My brother and father did but I would simply go without. I hated sandwiches and still do. To be honest I rarely ate the sandwich made for me either (just wasn’t stupid enough to take it home).

  13. Jennifer Burgess Reply

    I think every family is different, every kid is different and honestly at my house sometimes every day is different and everybody has to figure what works for their family. I like to make lunches but I have a chronic illness that sometimes makes it impossible so my kids know how and they are ready, sort of willing and definitely able to make their own. But when I feel good I like doing it-kind of like sending them off with hugs so I think it’s a good balance for us.

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