This has been a thing since I was a kid, but I experienced it again tonight. My mother has always done the cooking at home, it's also something she won't give up. She's the kind of person that would rather order takeout than let anyone else cook if she's not feeling like cooking, even when someone else offers to cook.
Sometimes, she tries new recipes. And sometimes, everyone but her collectively hates the dish or sees room for improvement. Like tonight, she made an oven dish consisting of leek parts wrapped in ham and covered in a cheese crust, with boiled potatoes and a hamburger. It's nothing too weird, we usually eat vegetable + boiled potatoes with gravy + meat at our place.
While eating, she'll request your opinion on the new dish. This is the moment everyone hates, as honest feedback easily upsets my mother. So, everyone takes special effort to sandwich their feedback, or make it as mild as possible:
- We try pointing out that we appreciate the time, effort, gesture of trying to come up with something new, pointing out specific things we like about the meal, sandwiching the things we don't like in between all sorts of good things.
- Since one thing that seems to upset her so much is her liking a dish while we think it's 'meh', we try to let her know that there's no shame in making a dish that not everyone loves, we reaffirm that tastes differ, we let her know that even if a dish isn't our favourite, it's also not bad. We remind her that she eats things that aren't her favourite to please us, and we can do the same for her.
- We try presenting our feedback in an actionable way: so instead of just complaining by saying 'it was too salty', I try to suggest or ask that next time the dish could be made with less salt.
- We try to avoid words that are too strong. For example, my brother and dad both dislike leeks, but they would always try to say that leeks aren't their favourite, instead of saying they dislike/hate something.
- For things that we really can't twist in a nicer way, we try to let her know that it's okay that we don't like them, and that we can still eat the rest. For example, my brother refuses to eat cheese, so he'd eat every part of this dish except the cheese crust.
Despite all this though, at this point, my mother usually starts to become argumentative, and upset, she keeps repeating that 'well, she likes it'. If we skip the part of pointing out that we appreciate the time/effort, she'll also resort to 'you ungrateful lot' and 'I can't do anything right for you all' types of remarks. She starts being short with everyone, stops engaging in the conversations going on, and if she has a really bad day, she lets us know she's angry by stomping around and slamming kitchen cabinet doors while getting the desserts.
Using pro-social deceptions instead of being honest isn't really an option. My mother can somehow sense whether or not you like a dish (probably has something to do with the speed of eating and chewing, something I haven't been able to control in such a way that it fools my mom). So she'll either call you out on it directly or you'll have the same problem the next time she cooks this dish, with the addition that she'll say you lied to her.
Is there any way we could present our feedback to my mom's new dishes, that would allow us to still be honest enough to avoid future trouble, but that would further reduce the chances of making her this upset?