Cooking with my mom has taught me to embrace living at home

When I first moved back into my mom’s house eight months ago, I had an incredibly difficult time staying positive. Despite knowing there were other millennials in the same situation as myself, I couldn’t help but feel ashamed to be living at home.  After all, I wasn’t fresh out of college. I was entering my mid-twenties, and was well past the “grace period” I imagined to be socially acceptable for moving back in with parents.

I envied my friends who successfully climbed career ladders, lived in big cities, and somehow made it work. It seemed like their lives were all moving forward, while mine was on an indefinite pause.

Still, I kept my eyes on the prize. Every day I checked apartment listings and dreamed of the moment I could resume my old life. I even took on a second job just to speed up the process.

I told myself, “You’re only here because you’re saving a ton of money. Remember that.

Eventually, I lost track of the dates. Despite keeping busy, my days felt empty and meaningless. Wake up. Work. Nap. Work Again. Sleep. Repeat. I felt like I had nothing to look forward to other than my move-out date, and this attitude was beginning to affect my mental health.

Although I never questioned that moving in with my mother was the smartest financial choice for my future, if I wanted to stay sane, I needed to dedicate my time to something other than rebuilding my bank account.

I decided I would finally learn to cook.

Why cooking? Well, for one, it was a skill I’d avoided developing throughout my entire life. Ask me at 22 to cook you anything beyond a bagel sandwich, and I would probably laugh and order PostMates. My desire to learn extended beyond wanting to know how to make a well-rounded meal for myself. Cooking was meaningful — it was a skill that I would carry for life that I could share with others. More than anything, it was something that would forever remind me of home in a good way, because I could learn it from someone special — my mom.

Thankfully, when I asked, my mom was pretty eager to educate me in the kitchen. She hadn’t been cooking much since she’d lived alone. And since I mostly retreated to my bedroom every day after moving back in, that pattern hadn’t really changed.

This was an opportunity for us both.

I committed to making dinner with her every single night.

Some nights, we would try to tackle an Ina Garten recipe. Other nights, we would make something simple, like a Caprese salad. But one thing would remain the same: We would do it together.

Soon, she had me peeling potatoes, chopping veggies, and washing prep dishes. If I’m being honest, it was pretty laborious and not as pleasantly effortless as Ree Drummond makes it seem. But my mom assured me that the “fun stuff” — like using the wok or whipping the perfect meringue — would come later.

But I would have to be patient.

I’d always disliked cooking because I hated the time involved. There is always so much waiting. One minute, you’re waiting for an oven to beep. Next, it’s waiting for meat to defrost. Then, it’s waiting for water to boil. You have to wait for the cake to cool before frosting. It reminded me of what it felt like being home again, waiting to move. I couldn’t imagine how people found the process to be anything but agonizing.

Yet there were many mornings when I was in a hurry and overcooked the eggs after turning the heat all the way up just so I could eat faster — and it was never worth it.

Through cooking, my mom showed me how to value those moments when it feels like you’re just waiting for something.

For example, you can wash the dishes and mix your frosting when the cake’s in the oven. Or you can fix a glass of chardonnay and gossip while the water boils. Sometimes you use these idle moments to get shit done; other times, you use it for fun. What matters is making the choice to not just sit and stare at a timer while you wait. And if you’re the one cooking, no one can tell you otherwise.

After all, a meal is so much more than what ends up on the plate. And life, by that very measure, is more than the goals we have yet to attain.

Perhaps that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve learned: Food is only the ending. The prep work, improvisation, experimentation, collaboration, and love that come with cooking are all part of the process too — and they are just as important. They make the end result worth it.

I’m starting to see my time at home in the same way.

There’s no need to rush and work several jobs because I’ll leave when I’m ready. And I don’t need to wait until I’m on my own again to enjoy myself. I can do that right now. I don’t need to dedicate every moment I spend at home toward my career and money goals for it to be considered time well spent.

Sometimes. enjoying a glass of wine with my mom while waiting for a quiche to cook is the most valuable way I can spend my evening, simply because it makes me happy.

Above all, this experience taught me to stop feeling ashamed and start feeling grateful for my situation. Before, I saw living at home as the “year of my twenties that didn’t happen.” It turns out, it’s filled with memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.

I now see what a massive privilege it is to get to know my mother as an adult, and even more so, to have the chance to learn from her. Cooking strengthened our bond in ways I never imagined, and that is something no amount of money is worth. Even if I spend more time here than planned, being at home is a gift that brought us closer. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

The money I make while living here will disappear eventually. Someday, I’ll have a different job,  make new friends, and live somewhere new. But my mom will always mean home to me, and I’ll always be glad I spent a little more time with her, just by making dinner.

While I still have a timeline for my move-out date, I no longer feel anxious about the period leading up to it.

Instead, I’m living for now, trying to master the perfect homemade veggie chili recipe one attempt at a time. It’s taking a while, but I’m okay with that.

After all, the slower food cooks, the better it tastes in the end.

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