Can We Be More Zen in the Kitchen?

 Yep, this is how I tackle every night! Just kidding. 

Yep, this is how I tackle every night! Just kidding. 

When we were growing up, my younger brother’s favorite book was the Pokey Little Puppy. This Little Golden Book got a lot of mileage. And I may be misremembering, but I think he was reading this book long after it was age-appropriate.

Coincidentally or not, my brother personified that puppy. He was, well, pokey. It remains an ongoing joke in our family. The rest of us (for better or worse) simply hated to slow down.

Personally, I have a hard time slowing down, my to-do list is never-ending (motherhood, hello!), and I’m always trying to pack as much into a day as I can.

Patience is not (and never has been) my greatest virtue. I have very high standards of others. And I have been known to be fairly difficult with coworkers who don't meet my expectations. (To be fair, I am also very hard on myself when I fail to meet expectations.) People who don't keep up with project timelines — or even just conversations — drive me crazy.

Which is why a recent compliment surprised me.

My mom (who I think would acknowledge she's not particularly patient) recently complimented me on my patience with my son — specifically with my patience in taking him shopping and spending time with him in the kitchen.

Of course, spending any time at all with a 3-year-old requires some measure of patience. I certainly have been known to lose my patience, to get super frustrated when he doesn't listen, even to yell. That is to say, I am most definitely human.

But I do believe that this is a journey. I believe that taking him to the store since he was 6 months old has meant that he understands that this is part of life. Likewise, cooking to him should seem like something we do every day — not something exotic for the holidays.

That said, we as parents are not always our best selves. We have days and weeks and months when we are stressed at work. We have days when we are frustrated with our partners, other family members or friends, or the kid who couldn't figure out how to ring up our order at the store. Sometimes we are simply over-committed on our calendars or just in our own heads. And this translates into short fuses at home.

Sometimes we are simply over-committed on our calendars or just in our own heads. And this translates into short fuses at home.

So, yes, cooking with kids is important. But making it fun for everyone is too. A few things to consider on the patience front:

1. Be mindful.

It seems trite to say be mindful these days. But recognizing when you are indeed not in a place to be calm and patient is critical. If you are overloaded and simply need to get dinner on the table, give yourself the grace to just do it yourself (or pick up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store or do takeout) and let your kiddo watch TV or play outside. Don't set yourself up for frustration and your kid up for disappointment.

 

2. Plan ahead.

I admittedly struggle a lot with this one. However, I do know that on the days when I know I'm going to cook or I know I need to go to the store and I know I want my son with me, I plan ahead. This means not planning too many activities/tasks back to back, knowing that the fact that he's with me makes things take longer. This also means thinking about what things he can do and making sure they’re prepped for him.

 

3. Be in a fun mind-set.

Take a deep breath and don't take yourself or the project at hand too seriously. Listen, I probably will not have my 3-year-old in the kitchen very much on Thanksgiving Day. The stakes are too high. I want everything to be just so. That may not be the right time to have him next to me all day. So, if you're not in a place to have fun and just enjoy the moment, again, give yourself the space to do what needs to be done and find a different time to bring the kiddos in.

 

4. See the long game.

I'm at the beginning of this parenting journey. I recognize that I want to continue to educate my son on food and nutrition and cooking and creativity. And I know there is only so much his little toddler brain can absorb right now. The truth is that this will continue to be true even as he gets older. There's only so much a 12-year-old can absorb too. But as with anything we are teaching our kids — money management, self-confidence, interpersonal skills, etc. — we're playing the long game. We don't have to teach everything we know in some sort of immersive, intense environment. Let's give ourselves the space and the time and the patience with our own selves to create a positive environment and an awesome learning experience for our kiddos.

So, hey, if today isn't a good day for cooking together, don't sweat it. Maybe tomorrow will be better. If it's important to you, you'll find a way to create positive experiences that are also learning opportunities. But it doesn't have to be every day.