As I became a mother, I understand why it feels even more important to make sure your children don’t feel left out or ashamed at school.
There are stories of mothers sacrificing their own sleep to get up at the crack of dawn in order to prepare both breakfast and lunch boxes before going to work, because there is an underlining guilt that we, many Japanese working mothers, feel: it was our choice not to give up our careers, so our children shouldn’t suffer because of it.
The feeling might be shared by other countries’ working mothers, but when your own mother and grandmothers were stay-at-home mums, and that has been the norm for many families in the country, the feeling that we are doing something “different” by pursuing career is even greater.
That said, the majority of state primary and junior high schools serve (quite amazing, I may add) hot food. So is the pressure of making lunch boxes just an issue for kids at private schools or in other words – rich families?
A tool of communication
The issue is: lunch boxes are not just for young children in Japan. According to a recent survey, many senior high school students (aged 15 to 18) still bring home-cooked lunch boxes to school, and the majority of them are made by their mothers.
But according to Risako, who has been making bento for 10 years and plans to continue making them until her daughter is 18, it’s about building the relationship between mothers and children.
“When rebellious teenagers often stop talking to their parents, by eating their mothers’ food, they still feel the love and be grateful,” she says. “I also ask my daughter what she liked most in the lunch box, so it’s a communication tool.”
There is widespread consensus in Japan that home-cooked food is healthier than store-bought – another reason why Japanese mothers still prepare their teenage children’s lunch boxes.