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Handling My Tween’s Mood Swings How My Mom Comforted Me—With Food

My son was having a really tough time with tween mood swings the other day. He was huffy, then sobby, then huffy again. He had no idea how to navigate his mood changes, and I didn’t either. We both felt overwhelmed, but I couldn’t resist the temptation to make it all better, so I did what I do best—I hovered. I asked, “Are you okay?” “How can I help?” “What do you need?” When he went upstairs into his room, I followed. And then I knocked on his door. “Do you need anything?”

My badgering didn’t help the situation. If my son knew what he needed, he would have asked for it (at least, I hope). There had to be another way to help him, I thought, as I went into the kitchen to make myself a glamorous nighttime snack of cereal. Then I saw bacon, and it dawned on me… Food!

Food is Love

My mother didn’t often know the right things to say or do, but she knew how to cook, and looking back now, I realize that was how she showed up for me and my three brothers when we needed extra care and attention, which was most of the time.

Growing up was hard for me and my brothers. Putting our worries and struggles into words was difficult and sometimes felt overwhelming. So oftentimes, as tweens and teens, we shut our parents out. Which is probably why, even when my mom didn’t know what to say to us, she cooked and baked a lot. She didn’t push or nag us to talk. When we were having a hard time, there would be heaping plates of homemade spaghetti and garlic bread on the dinner table and homemade cookies on the kitchen counter. Whatever food she prepared brought us together, so we knew we weren’t alone.

I remember one day specifically, after my first real breakup. I moped in my room, journaled all my angsty thoughts, and listened to good ‘ole Alanis Morissette and Fiona Apple. But then the scent of something sweet wafted into my room and lured me downstairs to the kitchen. Resting on the counter were my favorite caramel brownies with nuts, warm and gooey. My mom offered me a corner piece. Then we sat across from each other at the table, me eating my gigantic brownie and her sipping her afternoon coffee. I don’t remember a single thing we talked about. I don’t recall any words of wisdom or advice. But I certainly remember the comfort I felt sitting there with my mother—and the brownies didn’t hurt.

Making Comfort Food

That’s what I wanted to offer my son that night, a feeling of comfort and the knowledge that he wasn’t alone. So I cooked up some sizzling thick-cut bacon and waited for the scent to lure him down. A few minutes later, my son sat at the counter while I put food on his plate. “Thanks so much, Mom,” he said as we sat there munching on bacon strips like they were potato chips.

Taking a cue from my ‌mother, I didn’t ask if my son wanted to talk about anything or try to direct the conversation to whatever was bothering him. We just ate and chatted about books and friends, nothing in particular, and that was enough to let him know I’m here and that I care.

I guess in this way I’m turning out to be like my mother, wanting to bring my son comfort in his teen years when things sometimes feel very dark. I’ll keep making him strips of bacon, and my own homemade bacon-infused spaghetti sauce. And though my own recipes differ from my mother’s, I’ll make sure my food, like hers, feels like a giant hug. I learned from her example that preparing food can be an act of showing up for our kids. As a mom, that’s what I try hardest to do.

Show up.

Angela-Anagnost Repke is a writer and writing instructor dedicated to raising two empathetic children. She hopes that her graduate degrees in English and counseling help her do just that. Since the pandemic, Angela and her family have been rejuvenated by nature and moved to northern Michigan to allow the waves of Lake Michigan to calm their spirits. She has published articles in Good Housekeeping, Good Morning America, Parents, Romper, and many more. She’s currently at work on her nonfiction parenting book,Wild Things by Nature: How an Unscientific Parent Can Give Nature to Their Wild Things.”

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