Let Your Children Help
“This made me think of you and B in the kitchen together!”
I read my friend’s comment to me on the post she shared to my Facebook page. It was a Scary Mommy blog post about letting your children bake. Baking is one of the activities that characterize my relationship with my son so I loved my friend thought of us when she saw this piece. The post, “How An Episode Of Chopped Junior Changed The Way I Parent” is an insightful piece that encouraged me even more as I parent my little chef/helper.
As I shared earlier, B has a life threatening egg allergy. Because B’s allergy is so severe, pretty much everything has to be made from scratch. No shortcuts. The usual pre-packaged items, if they don’t have egg in them, are typically made in factories with egg. For us that means a potential reaction from cross contamination which is not a risk I am willing to take for a shortcut. B doesn’t know any different and so far we have been able to accommodate his food requests. He asks for a treat and I research until we figure out how to make the substitute. While I use to bake only during holidays, I am now an avid make-it-from-scratch home chef. But I am not cooking alone because the blessing that has come with this allergy is I now have a child who loves to cook.
“THAT IS MY JOB!”
Early on the extra cooking meant more time away from B as I was in the kitchen. The extra time cooking, even though it was for him, pulled at my heart because the hours I already spent away from him as a working mom. But then one day my little two-year-old was ready to help. Yes, I put B in the kitchen at the wise old age of 2. Now at almost 3 1/2, he is a seasoned sous chef and baker. He is very territorial of his “jobs.” If I try to pour, mix or taste test, he declares with more determination than ever, “THAT IS MY JOB!” Already he has the temperament of your stereotypical diva chef! So I hand the spoon/whisk/spatula back as I step away slowly letting him carry on with his job.
As you may imagine cooking with a toddler/pre-schooler means I have experienced hundreds of spills, messes, and melt downs. Preparing food moves way slower and my kitchen is messier than I ever thought my neat-freak personality would allow. Baked goods are not quite as pretty (if you receive Christmas cookies from us you will know) but they taste great and my son is proud. There are a lot of deep breaths on my part and battles of control on his part but there are more hugs, laughter and memories that overshadow any frustrations.
Knives, Whisks and Play Kitchens
At age three, my child knows that knives are dangerous because he is not quite to that skill level. But he is an expert mixing dry ingredients before adding the wet ingredients. He also knows when to use a whisk, spatula and spoon but prefers the whisk when given the choice. B understands the critical rule of cooking… taste testing as you go especially when chocolate is involved.
This little guy gets so excited over kitchen equipment. When my mother gave me a stand up mixer for my birthday, he was just as anxious to use it as me. He proudly said, “Look at what Sassy gave us!” And when not in the kitchen, he plays like he is cooking. He makes his two specialties…sausage and cookies without eggs of course! Even Santa has noticed his passion and last we heard there may be a play kitchen waiting for B on Christmas morning.
More Than Just Cooking
Beyond the kitchen, my child simply loves to help. It is easy to fall in the trap of wanting things to be done “right” and to say no to his offers to help. But we remind ourselves to stop and say yes. Yes, you can mop…even though there will be lots of spots missed. Yes, you can help wrap Christmas presents and I will accept that they will not be flawlessly wrapped. Yes, you can help fold the bath cloths, wash the dog, unload the groceries, etc.
I hope our efforts to appreciate our little helper are supporting us in raising a more empathetic, helpful and self sufficient little boy. However, the outcomes aren’t the reason we say yes to helping but instead we want to maximize quality time with our little boy. And because it’s hard to say no to his big, sweet eyes when he sincerely asks “Can I help?”
He helps and I learn. I learn to let go of perfection, realizing that this is the first time he will experience something. So yes the bath cloths will be more crumpled than folded but he has to learn. I learn patience because accomplishing simple chores take a lot of practice to master. I am also inspired as I admire my child’s fierce determination. His determination to perfect a skill is one we will continue to nurture. Granted, you don’t want to be on the other side of this determination if you ever have to redirect (shrilling screams anyone?) but the passion is there to accomplish great things. Amazing how all these life lessons come from helping and cooking.
Hug Your Little Helper
The next time your little asks, “Can I help?” Think of all the ways that you can say yes instead of no. Grab a snack if you are hungry because cooking time will be extended by at least an hour. Pull out a dust cloth if you are cleaning and ignore the spots that will be missed. And most importantly hug your little helper because you have a sweet child that cares.