Family dinners were painful after the divorce—but then I realized we needed them

"I just want a little more," said my 13-year-old as she reached for a third plate of pasta.

I had no idea where my long-legged teenager was putting it all. I couldn't remember the last time I saw her eat this much. It was a simple dinner with herbs from the garden in a little olive oil, topped with freshly grated parmesan cheese. I cut some bread and spread on a mixture of butter and fresh minced garlic then toasted it until it was perfectly browned. It took all of 15 minutes to throw together.

"I love it when you cook," she said to me.

It seemed to be an absurd statement at first. After all, I love to cook. In fact, until that moment I would have said I cooked a lot. But the longing tone in her voice gave me pause.

That's when it hit me—I used to cook a lot. Used to, as in, before the divorce. When my husband left me, our family dinners were suddenly a painful reminder of what our family used to be.

Every time we sat down I couldn't help feeling like we were missing something. An empty chair sat where 'he' used to sit. Leftovers lasted for days because I had again prepared too much. Both were subtle signs of how our lives were changing.

I didn't need any more reminders. I was single-handedly disproving the research that shows regular family dinners result in higher self-esteem, a greater sense of resilience and a lower risk of depression.

So I diverted the sadness with fun trips out to restaurants or brushed off the idea of dinner with a frozen pizza. Back then, eating in front of the TV was a wild and crazy moment my daughter had never been able to experience. That was two years ago. I didn't even realize it had become normal. A simple pleasure I had loved so much had become scary and overwhelming.

I grew up the oldest of six kids. In our house, family dinner wasn't reserved for Sundays. It was a regular part of our routine. My parents made it clear it was important for our busy family to sit down together to catch up on what was going on and what was coming up.

That's where my love of cooking began. A home-cooked meal from Mom was most often a casserole, meatloaf, lasagna or anything that could feed a crowd. She served the food lovingly as if it was our gift after a long day. Oftentimes we would talk to her in the kitchen while she cooked.

When we sat down at the table we weren't allowed to rush through it. Real connection takes time. Somehow no matter what was going on in our lives, that home-cooked meal was the great unifier. To this day, cooking is one of my favorite ways to show my love.

The next night I decided to make fish tacos with homemade guacamole. The conversation between my daughter and I wasn't much different than when we go out to eat, full of stories and laughter. But my daughter was different.

She loves to cook too and was happy to help cut up tomatoes while I sautéed peppers of every color. She talked non-stop about the drama of the day while I sipped on a glass of wine and searched through my spice cabinet to find the perfect combination for the fish. I felt the familiar but long lost joy of pouring my heart into a meal.

As it turns out, I have learned how to cook for just two. I had the perfect amount of leftovers for lunch the next day.

Family dinner doesn't look the way I experienced it most of my life anymore. But that's okay. I think it is time to reinstate the tradition of family dinner at our house because you know what? I love it when I cook too.

10 must-have registry items that will change your life, mama

The baby gear heavy hitters that should be top of your list

Calling all mamas-to-be! It's a fundamental truth of (impending) motherhood that your prepping-for-baby To Do list can feel a mile long, but really the best way to feel organized is to sort out the most important item at the top of your list: your registry. Sure the items you choose to include will end up running the gamut from nice-to-haves to absolutely essential game-changers, but mamas in the know quickly learn one thing: Not all baby gear is created equal.

So while you can and should pepper your registry with adorable inclusions that aren't necessarily can't-live-withouts (go ahead, add 'em!), you should make sure you're ticking the boxes on those pieces of baby gear that can be absolute life savers once you're in full-blown mama mode. From car seats to bouncers and playmats, your play and travel gear will be some of the most obvious important items on your list, but so can unexpected things, like a super comfy baby carrier and a snooze-inducing white noise machine. So to help you sort through the must-have options, we turned to the holy grail of motherhood that is buybuy BABY and handpicked 10 of the very best essential pieces that will change your life, we promise.

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Our Partners

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

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The 6 biggest lies I believed before having kids

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves.

Just about all of us had set assumptions about raising kids before we became parents ourselves. Some of these ideas might have been based on our own ideas of how we would absolutely do things differently than everyone else. Others, we believed what everyone else told us would happen would apply to our littles, too. But, that's not always the case, mama.

Below are six of the biggest lies I believed before having kids—and the reality of what actually happened for me.

1. Put your baby down drowsy, but awake

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