Friday, February 11, 2011

Raising a Homemaker

Head chef for Blueberry Kuchen
One of my big goals in raising my son is that when he flies the nest he can run a household.  I have no idea whether others share this goal consciously in raising their children; I am not sure that I've really ever discussed it with other parents. But for me, it's a real concern and it's something that I think takes energy and progressive conscious education. It's frequently easier to do the job, whatever it is, yourself than teach a child to do it, review their work and help them improve it. When my son first started cleaning the bathroom at age seven, I think there was more work required to clean the clean bathroom; but at nine, he needs no assistance and he knows all the mechanics.

I'm guessing that a lot of people enter into adulthood and their own home without being taught, not just about how to clean a toilet bowl, but how to manage their finances or cook their meals, how to fix a leaky toilet or grow food.  I personally was really good at managing finances because a family friend had spent time teaching me how to make the most of credit cards without debt.  I was relatively weak on a lot of other aspects of running a home.  When  I was in school, it wasn't cool for the academic kids to take courses like home economics or shop - i literally think no one I knew took those courses - and so I took typing. Ironically, here I am in my forties learning to cook and having chronic muscular pain that largely prevents me from typing. Schools do a great job of preparing you to contribute to society and the economy and traditionally the family taught you all the skills needed to fly in adulthood. My husband hadn't been taught to cook, clean, or do finances growing up. That's not a disparaging comment on my in-laws; I think that boys in the 1960s and 1970s simply weren't taught these things that often. But I don't want my son to have to be dependent on someone else, which is quite different than choosing to be interdependent.

Of course, a critical area for me is food. He has been actively cooking, not just putting sprinkles on cupcakes, since he was at least six. We work on reading recipes, assembling ingredients, measurements, principles like cutting, etc. In Italy, we discovered the mezzaluna, a two handled knife shaped a large "U" that allows even the youngest children to safely chop things on the cutting board. This is the perfect way to allow them to really participate in preparing food. After all, what kid doesn't want to use the knife? But knife skills are hard, say I who has routinely stupidly cut herself. With the mezzaluna, their hands are never near the blade and they can be completely responsible, except for an initial coarse cut, for making things like bruschetta. I think the pride of being a specialist at some recipe is huge for young kids, at least, it is for my son.  He's big on bruschetta and tiramisu.

He's proud of his whipping skills
We've just begun knife skills and I dont' let him move things into and out of the oven yet. He's itching to use the oven.  I do now let him monitor things on the stove.

When we cook together, I try to act as his sous chef, so that he is largely responsible for bringing things together. Yesterday we made a blueberry kuchen, the German word for cake, from the wonderful local cookbook, Dishing Up Maryland. We've never been a big dessert family, but this year with over 100 lbs of fruit stored from the Summer, we are diving in to all things fruit. We've made crisps and cobblers, compote and fruit ice cream. It's a new adventure for both of us. Yesterday was the layered kuchen, with a somewhat thick pastry like bottom, a layer of blueberries, and a crumble topping. Perfect with ice cream.

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday at Sustainable Eats, a blog from a family attempting a "hard core" approach to local living. 


  1. Love the knife idea! My Monkey is still too little but I definitely want to remember that for later. At 2.5 y/o she's already begging for the knife. haha.

  2. HI Renee! I am stopping on over to visit after your visit to my blog and I must say, good for you with your son! I am raising to girls and they are teens and both are pretty self sufficient. I think it is a key element that most parents miss when raising their kids. You can stuff knowledge into a child's head but when they leave home if they cannot care for themselves, what good is it? So glad to have connected with you! I am now following your blog. Please stop back by my spot on tuesdays for the hearth and soul recipe hop. I think you would fit right in! All the best! Alex

  3. Hi stumbled across your blog today and this hit a nerve with me. Awhile back I started making my son responsible for planning and cooking one meal a week. Sometimes it doesn't work out due to schedule conflicts, homework, etc but we are continuing on anyway. He already cleans bathrooms, does laundry, yard work, and works with Dad on handyman projects. I too think it is important to ensure he can take care of himself once he flies the coop. He's been inviting his friends over for dinner on nights he cooks. He's pretty proud of the meal and I see the positive effects of his feelings of accomplishment. Thanks for your post makes me feel great to know other parents think the same things I think are important are important for them too. Gotta love those boys! Robin in SoCal

  4. I love the mezzaluna idea as a way of getting kids to cut food without endangering their little fingers. I try to involve the kids in the kitchen, but I just can't bring myself to hand them the real chef's knife. Thanks for the idea.

  5. I think that is fantastic, and I do the same with my son. He loves to cook, it is a special time between us. For Christmas, I got him these nylon child-safe knives from Timberdoodle. They are GREAT - can't cut skin, but we have chopped veggies and cooked meat easily. He loves them, and I think they are a great price, too. Timberdoodle has lots of kid-sized and kid-safe tools. I also got a peeler, but it's a little too sharp so I kept it back.