I love reading food blogger recipes, and especially those written by women from the Balkans. I like that I can sense familiar fragrances through the screen by just seeing a photo or reading the ingredients and I like that this food reminds me of my grandmother and a country I left a long time ago. But there’s one thing that really bothers me, and that’s the way Balkan mothers tend to treat their sons.

I understand maternal love and pride, and I know that in the Balkans sons are especially revered. However, this highly gendered culture produces boys who never get a chance to do regular housework or cooking, and men who expect their wives to look after them as if they’re incapable, idolised children rather than grown-ass adults who are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves as well as others.

Balkan women, on the other hand, grow up watching men being taken care of in this way, and they know domestic servitude is expected of them, so they rarely question it. Because it’s probably easier to go through life appearing happy and content, than pissed off and frustrated. Obviously there is an option of fighting the patriarchy, but this is unpleasant and even dangerous in an environment that is so hostile toward women who refuse to toe the line.

I experienced this too and it was only after I was exposed to a more egalitarian culture, that I even realised how much of a self-sacrificial doormat I have been. In fact the conditioning to be subservient to men’s needs can run so deep, some of us can spend decades before we realise we are not in touch with our own needs and wants, and how this has damaged our health and prospects. I still carry scars of abuse I experienced from Balkan men, in my home, in school, on the street, at work and in intimate relationships, so while I know that not all men from the Balkans are like that, there’s definitely a profile to be observed. And a constant feature of this profile is the indulgent mother who, even when successful, educated and unwilling to tolerate an entitled husband, has a blind spot for emerging entitled behaviours in her sons.

Food is one of the ways we communicate love to our family and whether we like cooking or not, most women probably know the feeling of watching our loved ones eat with gusto the meals we prepared for them. We want to nourish and satisfy them, we want them to be healthy and happy and this probably more than anything else motivates us to spend countless hours over our lifetimes providing sustenance for our families. And it is here that Balkan woman most readily shows her submission to a man. Will he like the food? Will he criticise her? Forever second-guessing because the man hasn’t even deigned to comment on the meal he scoffed before he went back to his paper or television (or a pub). So when I see mothers talk about their sons as ultimate food critics that they are desperate to please, interpreting their choosiness and lack of gratitude as some sort of refinement, assertiveness, manliness, and when I hear them say, in a rare show of insight, that they pity their future daughters in law, I want to tell them to stop it. To make the spoilt brats prepare dinner two or three times per week. To make them do regular shopping, chores, to make them earn their keep like they do with their daughters. Because if they don’t, their precious sons won’t understand or respect the hard work and sacrifice that goes into providing for others. Most of all I want to ask them to please not blight the lives of the next generation of women with spoilt, entitled husbands who expect to be catered to their entire lives, thanks to actions of their indulgent mothers.

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