Let the Kids Cook Dinner

One of my parenting role models is a fictional animal.  She’s the lead character in the children’s book The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, which was written by Du Bose Heyward in 1939.  I can see why the book was written in 1939.  No one today would write a book like this one.

The Country Bunny is a typical female bunny – a single mom with A LOT of children (21 to be exact).  She’s an ordinary bunny who dreams of being selected as one of the five special bunnies who gets to deliver Easter eggs.  All the other bunnies doubt her ability to do the job, because they think, “How on earth can this ordinary, single mom bunny with all these kids possibly take on this big responsibility?” (my own quote, not from book!)

Well, my country bunny mom hero sets out to prove the doubters wrong.   She tells her kids one day, “Now we are going to have some fun.”  And she teaches them to do ALL of her mom jobs:  the cleaning, making beds, cooking, washing dishes, laundry, sewing, and even entertaining (this was pre-technology, so she couldn’t rely on a TV – they had to sing, dance, and do art!).   Well, I’m sure you can guess how the story goes.  Even though she’s the underdog because of her size and mother status, Grandfather Bunny decides she is “not only wise, and kind, and swift, but also very clever,” because of the way she has trained her children.   She gets the job!

The story goes on to tell about her challenges and triumphs delivering eggs, and ends with a simple statement about her returning home to find “everything in order.”

I’ve always thought that she was a really smart bunny to train her kids to competently function without her.   Many of today’s moms seem to be doing the opposite – trying to keep kids really dependent on them for everything.  When I returned from a two-day trip recently, a friend asked how my family did without me.   My response of, “Oh, they were great!” was perhaps not the expected answer.

Maybe something like, “Oh, everything fell apart.  The kids were late to school.  They ate fast food.  They got sick.  It was a disaster!”  would have been the answer some moms would give.   These moms believe their homes and families will fall apart and not function properly if they are gone, even for a short time.   And maybe they’re right.

I feel good that my family (husband and kids) competently keep our house and family running smoothly without me.  In fact, I’m proud of making myself less needed.  I think that’s my job as a parent:  to teach my kids to be less dependent on me and more competent on their own as they get older.

I’ve started thinking more about the Country Bunny and my role as a mom, and I want to share some things that might help other parents.  Sure, there was a time when my kids needed me for everything.  But I don’t think it’s healthy for them to be that dependent on me forever.  I view my job as one of constantly increasing both their responsibilities and their independence – at approximately the same rate.  I will know I’ve done a good job if my kids are competent, independent adults who don’t need me to survive.  Looking at the end goal changes how I function on the way there.  To make myself eventually superfluous, I need to be more like the Country Bunny!

Here’s a list of some my kids’ (ages 8-18) current responsibilities:
• Laundry – They wash, fold, and put away their own clothes.
• Driving – They get lots of independence, plus the added responsibility of driving siblings, doing errands, etc.
• Table setting, dishes, counter cleaning.
• Making lunches for school.
• Dog walking and feeding.

Three months ago, I added another responsibility (a la Country Bunny), and it’s been a life-changer.  In analyzing why I didn’t have enough time in the day to get everything done, I tracked how I spent my time.   I realized that I spent a few hours each day shopping for and/or preparing dinner.   I also realized that I have two kids who will soon be adults.  Voila!  A brainstorm!   My two oldest kids (ages 16 & 18) each now have one dinner a week that they are in charge of preparing for the family.   They have their assigned night (the same night each week), and it’s their job to get a well-balanced dinner on the table for the family.

I’m sure many parents will balk at this idea, because their kids are “too busy” to cook dinner.  My kids are busy, too.  I’m busy, too.  Isn’t that how life is?  You’re busy, and you still need to get a job done.  Isn’t that something competent adults figure out how to do?  Many meals are quick and easy to prepare, so even a teenager with limited time can make a dinner for the family.

Searching for the perfect recipe for dinner.

Here are just a few of the many benefits of our new dinner program:

•  I have a few extra hours, two days a week, to get other things done.
•  They feel pride at being helpful, contributing members of our family.
•  They are learning how to navigate the market without me and find what they need.
•  I’ve had fun teaching them how to cook their favorite family recipes, and they are building their repertoire of recipes they are comfortable preparing.
•  They can handle raw meat without saying “EEEWWW.”
•  We talk as a family about what we’re going to be having for dinner so that we don’t, for example, end up with chicken two nights in a row.  It’s been a good bonding experience doing menu planning!
•  The younger kids are now wanting to participate and learn to cook more things.
•  My oldest daughter commented that she’s “learned more this year outside of school than in school.”  She likes having a tangible, useful skill after being so focused on book learning for so long.

Since it took me until this year to start the dinner-cooking responsibility, I want to share with you that I wish I had started sooner.   From now on, I will evaluate my mom job duties annually and figure out who is ready to take on a new responsibility or two.   I will keep giving my kids more and more responsibilities as they get older, so that, just like the Country Bunny, “everything is in order,” even when I’m not around.

Resources:  The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.  🙂

Sunshine

I'm blessed to have five great kids (ages 13-23) call me “Mom.” As a summer camp director for the past 30 years, I've also had the privilege of working with thousands of kids, college-age counselors, and parents. I follow the latest research and trends on parenting, education, and children’s development and love to share what I learn!

10 Comments
  1. Wow Sunshine, what a great little article. I completely agree with your approach of giving your kids more and more independence. Learning to cook for myself in college was one of the most tangible and fulfilling steps I took towards feeling like an adult. It would have been even cooler and more rewarding, I’m sure, if I had had to cook and plan for a whole family instead of just myself!
    I love that you explained what chores you assign to your kids and why, and I’m happy that you have a couple of extra hours to yourself now. I hope Gretchen has a great first year of college–sounds like she’ll be a lot better prepared than most of her peers!
    Take care, Chispa

  2. Glad you discovered this great “chore” for your kids. Our family’s tradition beginning in the mid 70s was that when you started 7th grade you had the responsibility to plan and produce dinner for 8 that included salad, entree and dessert on one week night. On the weekend before your menu was approved, and your ingredients were added to the week’s shopping list. This chore lasted the entire year. Now with the children in their 50s and 40s they still spend time in the kitchen both the men and the women. So much for chores and life time appreciation of culinary arts. Thanks for keeping current this valuable tradition of kids in the kitchen.

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