Today I thought I would sneak into the kitchen from my sick bed and whip up some food ready for dinner tonight. You know get a head start on things so that dinner and therefore bed time is not a late one.
However as I entered the kitchen I realised that my 8 year old is rostered on for dinner tonight. Usually this means he helps me, but I had a flashback of his happy little face some time ago when he cooked dinner for us all, mostly by himself. He cooked beef stew and vegetables with mashed potato.
It’s the happy face that got me.
He was overjoyed to have been able to cook dinner for everyone. His pride shone, his chest puffed out and he mentioned it constantly at dinner that night.
I don’t think I shall ever forget it, and the lesson it taught me.
The lesson is around my tendency to rush the boring household tasks (like cooking dinner) which can cause me to loose perfect opportunities to allow my children to experience a sense of pride, that satisfaction and sense of achievement that comes from contribution, belonging and achievement.
This is what we get from connected families. Connected families help each other out, contribute to the family and each member feels a sense of their own contribution and therefore like they belong. We know these are all factors which have far greater impact than you might imagine in children’s and youth mental health.
You see I am a huge advocate of kids doing their bit around the home. It’s important for them and for the family in many ways including the sense of contribution, competence and belonging. The ability to plan and undertake tasks successfully and to feel a sense of achievement. These are all positive aspects of children performing daily tasks in the home and helping families function.
BUT…and here it comes….sometimes it is just easier and quicker to do it myself! Really it feels like that because I am a bit ‘choleric’ (aka tendency to be a ‘control freakster’) and like things done quickly and efficiently. 8 year olds are not conducive to this process and by the way neither are 10 and 13 year olds.
However, the children’s needs win and despite their initial protests (not to be avoided parents – a good child protest is all part of the package) we have a roster for kids tasks – parent tasks aren’t on there because it’s a given that they do everything else that’s not on the roster! And they get to do the jobs they need to do to feel part of the family, to learn and to develop into well rounded healthy people.
My kids have about 3 or 4 things each day depending on after school activities. We only have one activity at the moment for 2 kids so that’s OK.
They all cook dinner one night a week. The aim for the oldest is to be able to do this unaided (not yet achieved).
Other tasks include: taking the rubbish out, bringing the laundry in off the line, folding it, taking the dog for a walk, bringing the wood in for the fire, lighting the fire, doing dishes, emptying the dishwasher, etc
So nothing too strenuous but enough to have them helping out a bit each day because this is what daily family life requires.
Back to tonight – I went back to bed and wrote out instructions (another opportunity to improve his reading) for making carrot soup and sausage pie, both family favourites and super easy to make. The happiness started when I gave him the written instructions, he skipped off with them in hand as happy as a little magpie.
The trick is to start the process early enough not to create anxiety in the mother (that’s me!), and if you are not prone to being anxious that’s perfect you don’t need to worry!
Now my kids are so into this cooking dinner business that my 10 year old has created her own menu to create one night and designed it to be judged by the rest of the family and rated.
Beware if you take on this kind of venture that 10 year old girls, going on 11, can be slightly sensitive to criticism – even if they invite the feedback!
In conclusion, the things achieved this afternoon by allowing my 8 year old to cook dinner are quite a lot:
- A yummy dinner
- A happy boy
- He got to practice reading, maths and following instructions
- He got a sense of accomplishment, contribution and pride in his work
- He got praise from his family
- The other children want to out-do him!
- I didn’t have to do it
- He got a sense from his parents that we believe in his ability
This will all bring me to my next topic in the ‘Deconstructing Parenting’ category, pulling apart the belief of some parents having to do everything for their kids. Something I am trying to be better at but admit it is hard as a Mum who likes to do things for my kids.
I think the key is how we balance this with what is actually good for our kids.