“Mom, can I bake something?” my 8-year old daughter pleaded as she entered the kitchen.
I sighed. I had just spent the past two hours grocery shopping, cooking, and cleaning up from dinner for our family of five. It had been a long day and I was tired.
“Not right now, sweetie, I just finished cleaning up and it’ll be too much of a mess.” As if it were the answer she was expecting, she wandered off, probably to watch another episode of some annoying laugh-track show on Disney Channel.
Looking back, I’m embarrassed to admit just how many variations of that conversation we had. Don’t get me wrong, I did sometimes let my daughter help me in the kitchen. But I only let her do things I deemed “acceptable” for an 8 year old.
Simple things like ingredient gathering, pouring, and mixing. I didn’t let her crack the eggs because shells might get in the batter. I didn’t let her wash the bowls because she didn’t do a thorough job. I didn’t let her use the stove top or oven because she might get burned.
Or I would say, “I don’t need any help right now, but you can be the guinea pig taste tester when it’s done.”
And then one rainy night, all of that changed. I walked into our den to find my daughter watching a kids cooking competition show on the Food Network. I sat down to join her and for the next 20 minutes I stared at the screen, stunned, as I watched children the SAME AGE as my daughter work their way around a kitchen better than most adults I know.
These kids expertly chopped using razor sharp knives, they sauteed, they boiled, they pan-seared, one kid made a roux. I didn’t even know what a roux was until I was like forty.
I sat there wondering how in the world kids that young could be so skilled and knowledgeable in the kitchen. And then I had an epiphany. It was SO simple. They could do all of those things because somewhere along the line, somebody told them “YES.”
And I vowed right then and there that I would do a little experiment. The next time and every time, my daughter asked me to do something in the kitchen, I would say yes.
“Mom, can I bake cookies?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make scrambled eggs?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make Mac n Cheese?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make a quesadilla?” Yes.
“Mom, can I make homemade frosting?” Yes.
“Mom, can I use a bunch of your baking stuff and make up my own recipe?” Ugh. Yes.
And so it went. I’m not gonna lie…this was one insanely messy, time-consuming, experiment. In the beginning, she needed a lot of help, learning how to work the oven, the gas range, the timers. My countertops seemed to be permanently sticky for a while there…the sink never empty of the many bowls, pots and pans she used.
But I usually didn’t have to explain something more than once. And the more I said yes, the more she asked to do. Pretty soon she was looking up recipes online and following along on her own. I became more and more hands-off and watched her capability, and her confidence, soar.
Fast forward to a year later and I will tell you that this is one of the best parenting decisions I have ever made.
This child can now cook breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert, completely on her own. She is passionate about baking and moves effortlessly around the kitchen. She can crack an egg one-handed and saute’ broccoli with the best of ’em. Her homemade chocolate cupcakes are the best I’ve ever had.
My daughter will have these skills, and this confidence in herself, for the rest of her life. And that to me, is worth all the wasted eggs, the spilled milk, the messy kitchen.
So fellow parents, I encourage you to really stop and think when your child asks to do something, and not just in the kitchen, that might result in them learning a new life skill.
Because for all the time and energy you may have to put in up front, there is a huge payoff at the end. I know this because tomorrow I have to bring in 24 cupcakes for a potluck event. And I’m sitting here writing this article. Because guess what?
The cupcakes are being handled. And if I’m really good, she might even let me be the guinea pig.