Stop apologising for store-bought cake

Store-bought cakes should be celebrated, not apologised for.
Store-bought cakes should be celebrated, not apologised for. Photo: Shutterstock

When invited to a get-together, "What can I bring?" is the polite and expected question that usually comes out of your mouth. However, "What can I take that looks like I've put thought and effort into it and where on earth will I find the time to do this?" is really what goes through your head.

Often, we figure the best way to tick the thought and effort boxes is to make something from scratch but when lack of time, energy or culinary ability prevent us from doing this, we succumb to store-bought. If we're particularly skilled at this game, we may even go so far as to concoct an ingenious plan to pass off the store-bought contribution as our own.

My neighbour, a full time working mother of three, came around for a BBQ one night armed with a platter of chocolate brownies. Devouring them after dinner, we all exclaimed how delicious they were, with one guest even requesting the recipe. I noticed she quickly changed the topic.

Hours and a few wines later, she confessed to me that the brownies were from Aldi. She had transformed them from a budget buy to a delightful home-cooked treat with a simple scattering of strawberries and sprinkle of icing sugar.

Another friend came over recently for a cup of tea and a chat. Arriving with a cake that had hurriedly been picked up on the way, she was visibly embarrassed and apologised numerous times for resorting to store-bought. She too is a busy woman juggling a full-time job and two teenage daughters.

So why do mothers feel embarrassed about taking the store-bought shortcut? Is it simply a desire to impress or are we subconsciously conforming to gendered stereotypes? Psychologist, Mandy Edkins, agrees that these can be contributing factors but overwhelmingly it is more about mothers needing validation.

"Often mothers have come from very busy and quite successful careers. What some women then find incredibly difficult is when you go to being a Mum, you're not getting that same level of validation and feedback for your job," explains Edkins.

"If there's any opportunity to be 'good' at something, it's taken up… mothers want to be seen being good at what they're doing. With cooking, there's a tangible product and the opportunity to get immediate confirmation that you're doing a great job," she says.

And it is women that bear the brunt of this pressure. Judy Cummings, a mother of three, has observed that the expectation overwhelmingly sits with women. Cummings recalls, "Whenever I turn up to social gatherings, it's always the women that have prepared the food."

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The fact that women assume this responsibility is unsurprising when you consider findings from the latest census, where participants were asked how many hours they spent doing unpaid domestic work - not including childcare - in the week before the census. More than one in four men said none.

And this disproportionate physical and mental load is taking a toll. According to a recent study by Jean Hailes for Women's Health, there are concerning rates of anxiety and depression amongst Australian women. So, when there's already not enough time in the day, it seems ludicrous that even a sliver of embarrassment is felt around an outdated expectation that we impose on ourselves.

Edkins explains that overcoming these feelings of inadequacy is all about reframing your mindset. "You wouldn't expect friends to bake from scratch for you so why be so hard on yourself?" she says, and points out that we tend to set higher standards for ourselves than we do for other people.

Another tactic is to, "Put yourself in your host's shoes," says Edkins. Apologising not only makes them feel uncomfortable, it also sends a message that says, 'I don't find store-bought acceptable,' which puts unreasonable expectations on them the next time they visit you. By being confident about store-bought, you're giving permission to others to do the same.

Edkins also suggests that when you sense you're being judged, recognise that often the underlying reason people do this is because they feel vulnerable. "It's less about making the other person feel bad and more a sense of relief that, 'I didn't come last today,'" she says.

And finally, remember that store-bought should be celebrated, not apologised for. It's a smart choice to feel proud of because what it ultimately bought a busy mother, was more time.