This week, I’ve cooked five dinners that included a different lean protein each night, an exciting vegetable and some kind of whole grain. I’ve made five breakfasts that are healthy, protein-filled and free of junk. I’ve packed 10 school lunches and 10 school snacks.
I’ve also nagged my kids so much more than I wanted to—“stop playing video games,” “do your homework,” “stop procrastinating,” “stop fighting,” go to bed,” “hurry up we’ll be late,” “for the last time please put away/turn off the electronics.”
I now breathe a sigh of relief. All of the homework was completed, everyone was driven where they needed to be driven after school and then back home again, that little crisis with one of my kids that popped up all of a sudden on Monday seemed to have resolved itself by Friday.
And so now, the last thing I want to do, on a Friday, is cook Shabbat dinner.
In my fantasy, I’m at the butcher or market, buying my roast, cleaning the house, and getting out my nice china. I’m looking forward to welcoming Shabbat. And I’m looking forward to my family coming together after a week of rushing around. In my fantasy, we sit around the dinner table, and the kids politely take turns talking about their week; what was good and maybe not so good. Perhaps we take a moment to appreciate each other and the beautiful food I just spent hours making. The kids gladly help clear and clean without any prompting from me. We retreat to the living room and play a board game or read. Our electronics are all turned off and nowhere in sight.
In my reality, it’s Shabbat and I’m a little angry. Since my kids were toddlers, I’ve heard the message in synagogue loud and clear—Shabbat is important. Shabbat is crucial to Jewish continuity. But I work hard all week to raise kids who will be decent and kind and then when Friday rolls around, I feel inadequate because I don’t want to make Shabbat dinner. I feel guilty. I’m a bad Jew. I’ve let my people down.
The truth is I used to cook a lavish Shabbat dinner every week. We’d light candles and say the blessings. I always felt like it was lovely for everyone but me, because honestly all I wanted to do was put my feet up, relax and have someone magically appear at my house, make me and my family a beautiful Shabbat dinner and then clear and clean up too. I wanted to wear my pajamas all through dinner too, go make-up free, and not worry if my hair was frizzy.
I can’t read another blog post dispensing advice on how to make an easy one-pot Shabbat dinner. I know how to do a one-pot. I am a master of the one-pot. Please don’t tell me to take it easy on myself and just order in pizza. It’s like telling me to make a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. I deserve to eat something lovely after working hard all week.
The problem for me lies partly with the unrealistic expectations of mothers today. And added to that: If we somehow don’t get it right as Jewish mothers we’ve let down our parents and their parents and everyone else who came before them. If my kids grow up and decide Judaism is not for them it will be my fault—my failure as a Jewish mother. If I only celebrated Shabbat more then this wouldn’t happen. I should have tried harder. Ugh.
After getting a nasty bout of shingles this year that my doctor said was brought on by stress, I was forced to re-think my priorities. I knew things needed to change. I was fried and tired of running around trying to always get it “right.” Plus, our life seems busier than ever—raising teenagers, working dual careers and trying to carve out some quality time with my husband and for myself. I decided to let go of Shabbat expectations and all that came with it. And I’m thrilled to tell you Fridays have never been better.
It’s the new Friday.
Here’s how it goes: We don’t make plans. We are spontaneous. Sometimes after picking up the kids from school, we come right home and get in our pajamas and order in something for dinner that we all want to eat. We make boatloads of popcorn and watch a movie. Other nights, we take long walks, eat at our favorite sushi place or grab burgers; we browse in a bookstore and get a hot chocolate for the walk home. Once we got burritos and bought lots of candy and ate it all while watching a movie in the theater. Things may change. I may go back to cooking on Friday nights—who knows? Maybe soon the kids will be old enough to cook with me.
I love my kids like crazy, and it’s because I want to be with them on a Friday night that I stopped making Shabbat dinner. I love Fridays now. No obligations, no expectations. No nagging. I laugh. I hold hands with my son as we walk; cuddle up with my daughter while we watch a movie. I go to sleep when I want to regardless of when the kids do, and after a long week I’m happy and content, full and grateful. Shabbat has never been better.