I used to love cooking. When I was a newlywed, I had endless time to research recipes, run to the store on a moment’s notice to grab that special ingredient, or slave away in the kitchen. Sometimes I’d have wine. Sometimes I’d have music. Either way, it became a bit of an unwinding process for me. I was never a fancy cook. I didn’t make lavish meals for our duo, but they were good enough and made with love. It was like a day full of staring at screens and emails would slowly dissipate as I worked with my hands instead of my brain.

I’d chop with fervor. Mix ingredients with gusto. Delightfully watch as homemade sauces began to simmer and bubble. It became an important transition for me in shifting from work to home. Internet culture loathes the act of cooking night after night, but I never felt that way. It never took a negative tone for me.

Then, we added our daughter.

She was a dream baby and cooking was still enjoyable. Those first few months she’d rock away in her little bassinet as I did the same cathartic process of cooking dinner and unwinding. Even when she turned one, many nights we’d attach her little booster to the island and she’d happily play with rubber spatulas or measuring spoons as smoke rolled off the stove or a colander full of hot pasta. She was pleased to be eye level with Mama. I was pleased to add a girlfriend to my decompression routine.

Three years later, we added another kid. And then another. And making dinner for my family took on an entirely different vibe.

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My older son has a lot of energy, which 95% of the time—I think is awesome. This was readily apparent at about six months of age when he started rolling all over the house and scream-singing his way through the day. My younger son is not far behind.

Now, walking in the door after making three different stops to pick up all three kids while carrying 27 bags and four water bottles makes the switch from work to home less predictable. I am acutely aware of the mess that was just made in the foyer, the mess that is about to be made in the living room, and can already hear the crackle of snacks opening in rooms they are not supposed to be in. In tandem, I seem to have less time to plan, prep, or actually make dinner.

My cathartic act of unwinding and self-care has now been filled with high-pitched screams and dodging footballs while silently berating myself for not remembering to get the can of corn and ground turkey.

There’s no running to the store. There’s no glass of wine. There are papers scattered everywhere, dishtowels about to catch on fire, and a refrigerator door left wide open.

One particularly chaotic day, it dawned on me that I had a choice to make. I could either continue to silently weep for a process that no longer fit my life, which on my most stretched days, slipped into resentment, loathing, or bitterness. Or, I could begin to craft a different kind of unwinding process that served both me and my family.

I tried to wrap my head around how you make the after-work transition more peaceful with an evening full of commotion and little mouths to feed. The answer is . . . you don’t. You make peace with the commotion.

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I got better at food shopping and meal planning in advance—it allowed me to walk in the door with a plan rather than winging it and realizing I didn’t have what I needed. I embraced recipes with fewer steps, fewer ingredients and have resolved to believe that this is a season—we won’t be eating spaghetti and meatballs forever.

I’ve slowly crafted an after-work and school rhythm that has swapped calm for connection. My older son loves to help me cook in the kitchen, and I try to let him whenever I can even though this often means more messes and a slower pace. The kids help me pick out the music now, and I embrace Disney classics as if they were my favorite tune.  

It can be difficult to let go of rhythms that have served us well. I’ve learned the slow way, however, that we can hold on to what was or we can decide to craft new ways that ultimately become rhythms we come to value. It might involve Disney tunes and mediocre meatballs—but even those can be the hallmark of a new, meaningful rhythm for you and your family.

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Susannah  McMonagle 

Hi, I’m Susannah. I love encouraging mamas and finding the joy in family life. I think parenthood is one of the wildest and humblest adventures there is. I live near Philadelphia with my hubs and three great kids, and I write about motherhood, adoption, family dinner, and more. I also host a podcast for moms called The 5 to 8 Shift with Susannah McMonagle – listen in for a dose of encouragement and info without the overwhelm.

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