Family Time and Cooking

I recently read some research results where 52% of working parents in Finland spend less than 2 hours and 20% less than an hour  on a week night with their small children (Määttä & Rantala. 2010. Tavallisen erityinen lapsi, p. 83). Two of the biggest reasons, stated by parents, for not having the time after work are lack of energy after a busy day at work and home chores.

imageThe editors of the book comment on how important it would be in these busy times to include children in doing the chores and to use this time together rather than have even less time for the children. They also understand how one doesn’t always have the energy to e.g. cook together because it is just so much more smooth and simple when you do it yourself.

Reading this gave me three associations immediately:

  1. I recently saw the American wife swap programme (My excuse for daytime tv was that I had fever ;)), where two wives swap families for two weeks. Of course the show is made so that there’d be a clash and this time one of the wives didn’t think her children, about 10-15 years, were supposed to do any chores after school, one had her young children, maybe 4-6 years, even to mop the floors. The one thing I really noticed was that the about 15 yo didn’t know how to use the dish washer (or wash it a washing machine? Doesn’t matter).
  2. About 10 years ago, when I was backpacking, I met a Brazilian girl, she was absolutely lovely and super fun to travel with. The most fascinating part was to have a conversation with her as we come from very different (family) cultures. As an example: there are no maids in Finland, we are too equal, the labour is too expensive and the middle class is too vast. But this girl came from a Brazilian upper class family. When her family got into some sort of financial trouble she helped her dad save by agreeing to share one maid with her brother instead of all the four children having one maid for their own needs.
    When travelling in Spain, she ran into problems though as her credit card wasn’t accepted. In order to save, I suggested we’d cook ourselves. I will never forget how thrilled she was when she had boiled her first egg ever (why would you boil your own eggs if there are 4-6 maids in at home?!). She was about 25.
  3. I should be thankful that I have most evenings about 3 hours to spend with my children after work. I thought the evenings are short but apparently they are often even shorter in other families.

As for the topic: I am not a big fan of cooking.

Three years of being a SAHM took all my joy away from that (why does a child eat five times a day?!!!) but of course we need to eat something and I’d prefer something relatively healthy. So I cook (lucky my husband does too when he is home).

I’ve become the master in creating a healthy, filling but quick dinner (and I am so happy Finnish children get a simple but proper lunch both at daycare and at school), e.g. a regular one is a smoked or flamed salmon salad. I buy the salmon freshly smoked or flamed from a deli and then all I have to do is to cut up the veggies. I also make most weeks a soup or some casserole type meal in the oven: both are simple, just mix enough ingredients for two meals, pop it in the oven or boil it in the stove, add spices and wait. So no gourmet food but we are nourished well enough.

I believe Montessori was on to something when she said kids have their sensitive periods when they learn best. I also believe in letting kids learn from an example and as a part of normal life, which means e.g. that we clean up toys together from the floor instead of the toys “magicly disappearing” back to their places when kids are asleep and them having no idea that even that involves some work.

I haven’t been very good at inviting our children to help with cooking.

Partly because it’s quicker to do it myself, partly because I’m too tired to have the hassle and partly because on week eves my cooking is in my opinion more like “cooking” and I haven’t thought there’d be so much to learn from…

A while ago one of my favourite bloggers, Singaporean based Christy at Kids ‘r Simple, wrote about how she wanted to teach her children, a bit older than mine, the simple stuff in the kitchen. Even though I’ve never been too afraid to let my children have a go in the kitchen (supervised of course) and have tried to think of something they can do if they have asked to help, her post made me realise that it really is the simple stuff children should start with, not the three course dinner we may (or may not…) cook for dinner guests.

Because really, there is no rush yet, but I want my children to be able to do the basic, affordable and healthy stuff for themselves when they move out. And if they are interested in it now, then now is the time to do it.

Since then I’ve been inviting the kids along more:

My son (4), who has always been more interested in kitchen duties, especially baking (which I used to do a whole lot more when a SAHM), responded eagerly. He was so proud after frying eggs for the whole family one Sunday morning! Another time he was thrilled was when he made the most tasty cheese sauce for a lasagne.

After a while my daughter (5) has shown more interest too, maybe also, because we had so much fun cooking together with my son. She’s picked up a lot quite quickly, and surprised me the other day by stating herself “now it is time to lay the table”.

My children have found it interesting to see, when the water boils, how liquid disappears with steam and how the chicken turns first white when you fry it. They’ve been surprised to see, what really goes into the food. And they like the simple kitchen maths: how many decilitres of this and that, if you turn the stove on, is 6 hotter than 9? and to wait 15 minutes is three sets of fingers in minutes.

The most exciting part has been to cut things with a knife. First they have been allowed to cut something soft, like a cucumber, and an adult was there to hold the handle as well. Little by little they have been tackling harder things to cut. We have a rule: when cutting, one can’t do anything else. When not cutting, the knife is put down (you know how kids wave their hands only when explaining…). So far no accidents, only eager helpers.

And do you know what? I don’t dislike cooking that much any more. It is quite fun to be doing things together in the evening. Why not let it be cooking that still needs to be done? And probably has been the way to spend time together for centuries. Cooking with my children is not a hassle anymore, not like it use to be when they were under three and one buttered a door while the other one was measuring water for pasta. Now they can take turns. As a bonus my children often tell me about their day spontaneously while we are at it.

I was, however, quite keen on hearing the rest when my son claimed he could cook all on his own. As far as I know, my children have never been, nor will they be, for quite a while yet, cooking alone: “I can put a plate all on my own in the metro (=underground in Helsinki)”.

Next thing to introduce at home is the”Cleaning Party”, that is so much fun that the neighbours girl did not want to stay and play with us when she had the chance to join that party. Home chores well marketed, my beloved neighbour!



  1. […] if I am busy on Sunday evening), so that we can just heat it up. No gourmet here but the same basic healthy home cooked meal for two nights. Wednesdays and Thursdays we are usually home around 4.30-5 pm (unless there are […]

  2. Oh what a lovely post! Thanks for the mention!
    In Finland, 52% of working parents spend less than 2 hours with kids and I would easily tell you that this percentage is certainly much higher in Singapore. I am really feeling so refreshed reading this post just as I need it badly. I am rather guilty of not spending enough time with the children due to heavy work commitment. I know over at your side, you will hardly find anyone slogging in the office for 12 hours or more than 10 hours a day. So when I returned home, sometimes, we are left with only 1 hour or less than that to be with the kids. Soooo pathetic.

    This post also reminded me that I enjoyed cooking with the children. I do have a helper now for a year. I envy my helper who can spend most of her waking moments with MY children while I slog at work. She is probably spending lots of time cooking with my kids too.

    I am happy for you that you enjoy cooking now that cooking is a bonding activity with your children. Indeed, starting small steps is the way to go and soon they may really cook a decent dinner for you 🙂 It is good to start young 🙂 You are doing very well!

    1. Actually it is not uncommon with people working 10-12 hour days in the corporate world here too, I used to too. Not every day but often enough. One is supposed to get the overtime paid or at least as time off but that doesn’t quite happen like that either… But most parents are able to organise something, take turns, agree on shorter weeks… and most still feel guilty for either not being enough there for their children or for their work team. Or feel sad putting their careers on pause because the ones working less due to family won’t be the ones promoted… i looked for another job were the pressure to work overtime is not that high (turned out to be nonexisting, which is great! But then the pay is poorer than it would be in a company too. One can’t get it all, I think this is a good compromise for now). So don’t feel bad, we do the best we can in the situation we are in.
      Sounds pretty good that you have a helper though with those working hours! Gives you a bit more time with your children. And lucky we eat on weekends too, so there are more opportunities to cook together; )

  3. I love making… ahem inviting Z to make meals with me. She loves it and we also bake on occasion (cookies! YUM!). She also helps put away clean dishes and seeing the look of pride on her face makes my heart twirl.
    Great post Vilma!

    1. That sounds like a lovely time spent together Jen!

  4. Love it! I’m a big believer in getting the kids involved because it keeps them busy, it lets you spend time with them and teaches them skills they will need later in life! Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of times I just want to get it done, but it’s nice to know that my son can fix himself a meal, can clean the house and knows how to do laundry. 🙂

    1. You’ve done your parents duty to equip Mr T for life 🙂 but yes, teenagers should already know how to do laundry (but nothing wrong with mum or dad doing it too) etc.

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