I’ve been a mom for over 4 years now, and when I think about that fact, it is rather mind-boggling. I often wondered if I would be able to keep my kids alive and I’m happy to say, so far, so good. I’m raising two adopted children and our third is due in April. While trying to navigate the craziness of sleep schedules, eating habits, school, appropriate play and keeping up with all the household tasks, I have also noticed an interesting and formidable tension placed on parents. There is pressure on us to raise strong, independent children, who are not entitled and who can do for themselves.
At the same time, there is also this focus on childhood; it needs to be fun, simple, carefree and lacking pressure. How are we supposed to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory points and at what age does the pendulum swing in the other direction? How do you know if you’re favoring one aspect over another and what detrimental impact will that have on your child?
The first meal my daughter made for the family.
I’ve surprisingly found a fun and interesting middle ground to this question in the area of cooking. My daughter is 6; she will turn 7 in March. Over the past year, she has expressed an interest and desire to help me in the kitchen. So I thought I would take advantage of her initiative and see where she wanted to go with this newly expressed desire. I didn’t pressure her but would simply offer to show her things. I let her tell me what she was interested in and when she expressed positive affirmation, I would give her real responsibility, not token tasks.
So we started small. She would help stir dishes I had already prepared or put in specific ingredients or wash the plastic, kid-friendly ’ dishes. But soon, she wanted to do more. So I have started working with her on using the Crock-Pot, with which she is now quite familiar and comfortable. We have found a system that works very well; I open and set out all the ingredients and give her instructions as to the order that they should be put in the pot. She will assemble the dish, turn on the Crock-Pot to the appropriate setting and set the timer using Google. So far with this method, she has made an amazing pork shoulder roast (better than any of mine), a pork tenderloin with vegetables, chicken chili, pork chili, split pea soup, and lentil soup. We recently tried out making banana bread and we all loved the finished product. It was eaten rather quickly.
Trying her hand at dessert.
She is loving her newfound responsibility and contribution to the family. She recognizes the big deal that it is and I am constantly thanking her for her help. She takes pride in what she is doing. She often asks me when she can cook “for the family” again and I am happy to oblige her. This love of cooking has also given my daughter and I another avenue for us to bond through. It has provided an excellent teaching opportunity and gives me a chance to pass on such an important life skill, while she still cares to learn it.
She is learning such a valuable tool, one that I didn’t take at all seriously until I was a teenager and begrudgingly at that. By that age, I was annoyed at suddenly having to take on this responsibility and didn’t see it as the awesome contribution that it truly was to my mom.
I’d rather let my daughter learn this now, at her own pace and while she finds it a delight, rather than waiting until an arbitrary age to suddenly say that now she has to learn this! And in case there is any concern, if she were to tell me she was done, that would be totally acceptable. I never force her to cook during a given week, if she asks to, then I will happily praise and encourage her in that endeavor.
It has been fascinating and intriguing to realize that, while she is learning and maturing faster than I ever did at her age, she is still a kid! She loves her gymnastics class. She delights in playing with her dolls and stuffed animals. She really enjoys playing games like hot potato and Jenga. She loves her dad to play chase, tag or just tickle her. She loves parks, playgrounds, and indoor, restaurant play places.
She annoys her brother, while also spending hours playing with him. She loves to play in the snow, the only member of our family who enjoys the existence of winter. In short, she is still like any other kid, just who happens to also like and know how to cook. I think both of these characteristics are quite important and needed. Believing a child is capable of learning and doing more doesn’t automatically mean that she cannot still have a fun, enjoyable childhood. Why does it have to be one or the other? I am seeing firsthand that both independence and frivolity in childhood are possible. It has been a privilege to witness this reality and play a small part, not to mention, discover an unexpected answer to a common parenting tension.