| To Be Honest |

Just Buy It     

We've traded homemade for perfection — but at what cost?

A few months ago, my sisters and I got together to plan a milestone birthday party for our mother.

”You know what we should really do for Mommy?”


“Cook the entire thing ourselves.”

“Are you crazy? We said we’re going to invite the whole family… this isn’t a small homegrown family event!”

“Because it would be so meaningful for Mommy. Mommy stops at nothing to do and do for us in every way she can, and we all know that.”

“But don’t you think she understands that we’re young mothers and this would be such a pressure?”

“Yeah, and nothing will come out right. All our food will be homemade looking.”

“Still. Think how much Mommy would appreciate it if we stopped our lives for a night or two and dedicated the time to cooking for her birthday. She would be so touched.”

“Don’t forget Aunt Helen will be here, and she will one hundred percent turn up her nose at anything that feels like it’s been touched by a million hands.”

If time was on my side, and I had wide open days to cook and bake and plan and perfect, sure, I would have agreed that we should push to do it all ourselves. But I just don’t have the time that would take. Which is why, when my sister suggested that we just cater the whole thing, I easily agreed.

It was a beautiful event, the food was delicious and presented beautifully, everything was on schedule and worked out as planned, but it felt a little… canned. I know my mother would have appreciated it if my sisters and I had cooked and baked in her honor.

There would have been something so nurturing about pushing ourselves to make my mother a homemade event. She never stopped doing for us, no amount of effort or exertion ever got in her way as she showed her love for us in so many little, homemade ways. When we were younger she would decorate the house from top to bottom for the morning of our birthdays so we could wake up to something fun and festive. Fast forward many years to these days, when she runs from store to store doing our pre-simchah errands, running back again if she accidentally buys the wrong shade sock. My mother has a full-time job and plenty to do — but she always puts us first. It would have meant the world to her if we had reciprocated on this milestone birthday. It would have been a language of love.

But, on reflection, I can’t help but think about the undercurrent running through the planning process. We wanted everything to look professionally done. We didn’t want to risk wilted greens or overcooked chicken. We needed it to look perfect.

It’s true that a beautifully catered event sidesteps those issues… but at what cost?

We’ve lost the personal touch.

We’ve become a generation that puts perfect up on a pedestal, and we’re passing it on to our kids like it’s the color of our eyes. If it’s not going to look perfect via the homemade route, we think, we may as well not even try. And so we’ve resorted to buying and ordering and swiping our credit card to save face. Store-bought has become the gold standard. Everything needs to be perfect.

We lean in to the buying option, convincing ourselves that it’s the route that makes the most sense, self-righteously declaring that it will come out way neater and more presentable this way, and take too much time to do otherwise. How could we not? Why should we add extra work to our overflowing plate? Let’s do ourselves a favor and buy it all. Sure, we could push ourselves, but buying everything will make it look beautiful while doing ourselves a favor.

We got very good at convincing ourselves of all of this, and in the process we’ve become consumed with perfection. And because we’re so consumed with perfection, we’ve convinced ourselves that we can’t do anything on our own. This self-perpetuating cycle has created a reality where there’s only one way to be, one way to do things. And that attitude has driven so many naturally talented women to therapy or into serious feelings of inadequacy because they just can’t keep up with perfect. It’s not just baked goods. It applies to anything we put our energy into, not only in areas of gashmiyus. When we give ourselves and our kids the message that nothing less than perfection in all areas is acceptable, we put their self-image at risk. When perfect is the only option, we lose the many advantages that imperfect offers.

Homemade baked goods might not look as perfect on a kiddush table, but they definitely let the new mother know we invested our time and our hearts into making something for her simchah. A homemade cake won’t command the same elegance on display at a vort, but won’t it show the baalei simchah how close you feel? A homemade gift may not be as classy as a flower arrangement, but it’s a commodity; it’s not something you can go buy once it runs out.

Sometimes, we have no choice but to swipe the card. When my sister in Lakewood gave birth on Erev Pesach, the only thing I could realistically do was send an overpriced schnitzel platter from the nearest takeout place. She appreciated the gesture, felt the love — and what’s more — my desire to be with her in her simchah. Having that ability is a huge blessing — but let’s keep it where it’s most needed and not allow it to become the new norm.

We’ve collectively embraced the perfect route. But it comes with strings. And if we can break free from those strings and push ourselves to find the confidence to send something less perfect, but bursting with homemade love and emotion, I think we’ll find that the result is… perfectly imperfect (and delicious).


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 885)

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