One of the first things my mother told me about marriage was this: "Don't start traditions you don't intend to keep."
Years later, I realized what she really meant was don't raise your spouse's expectations of what you are capable of or willing to do on a daily basis. For me, this meant one obvious thing: Don't cook.
Not only do I not like to cook, but I am pretty awful in the kitchen. My ability to burn almost everything but water is legendary in my family. I make up for this shortfall in other ways by being a meticulous organizer and planner that keeps my family's life and house running smoothly all week long in the midst of our very busy lives.
What do we eat, you may ask? There's plenty of lovely prepared food at the grocery store made by people much more skilled than myself, plus there's a never-ending supply of takeout dinners in our area. In desperate times, I have been known to break down and rustle up the occasional batch of spaghetti or chicken nuggets, which I usually burn, of course. Between work and all my daughters' after school activities, there are few opportunities for family meals. I do feel guilty, not about the food, but about not having the time together.
We did have family meals when I was growing up where my mom would begrudgingly whip up a little Hamburger Helper or Shake n' Bake chicken after a long day at the office, and despite the less than gourmet cuisine ( I got the bad cooking gene from my mom), there was something very comforting about sharing a meal with my family at the end of the day.
I've come to realize it is not really about the food, but about coming together as a family, talking with your children, hearing about their day. I am thankful when the rare weeknight creates an opportunity for us to eat together whether it's Chinese takeout or frozen pizza. Amongst the plastic containers and paper bags, there is always lively conversation. During the weekends, I make a concerted effort to have a real family meal where the table is set properly and we sit and eat at the same time, not getting up until everyone is finished.
But the "table" can be in your kitchen or at a restaurant. What matters is being together. Tonight it was a chicken place near my daughter's volleyball practice. We chatted, we laughed, and shared a basket of fries. And while Norman Rockwell might not have approved, I'm pretty sure my mother would have.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.