Doug loves to cook. He brought all the cookbooks to our marriage, including one gem called Culinary Artistry, which isn’t really a cookbook but rather a way to look at food, a resource for what the authors call “flavor pairings,” and a collection of stories about restaurant chefs and the food they make. One of those stories I’ve read countless times. It goes like this:
George Germon recounts an experience that he says he’ll never forget…
“I was visiting some people in England who had a four- or five-year-old daughter. They weren’t around, but I was in the kichen and the little girl pulled a chair over to the stove and started heating up a pan, saying she was going to make tomato soup.”
After getting the girl’s assurance that her parents allowed her to do so, Germon says he watched her heat some butter in the pan, then take out a knife and cutting board and chop some tomatoes. She cooked the tomatoes in the butter about three minutes, and then added a little salt and a little cream.
“Would you like some?” she asked Germon, who politely replied, “Sure!”
Once he tasted it, Germon said he was absolutely floored. “It was unbelievable,” he says.
—Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page
What captured Chef Germon’s imagination about this experience was the simplicity of the soup: how could something so simple taste so good?
What captured my imagination was that little girl, confidently making her way around the kitchen, handling a knife, using the stove, when she was only five. I carried this image into my marriage and then into my parenting. I wanted a child like that.
When Jack was a baby, Doug’s aunt visited us; she brought along two of her friends and their sons. The boys were nine and 16. Doug set them to work in the kitchen making cookies. They were terrified of the KitchenAid, of the oven, of messing up.
I carried that image, too. I didn’t want kids like that.
So from a very young age, Jack helped us in the kitchen. He can now make cookies, pancakes, waffles, and biscuits on his own. He also makes eggs, salad dressing, and rocking guacamole—and dinner once a week.
This morning, as I was scrambling eggs, I remembered that it’s Jack’s night to cook. I grinned and said to Doug, “I don’t have to make dinner tonight! I love having a nine-year-old!”
Then I dumped the eggs into the pan. Luke, who was standing on a chair beside me, picked up the spatula and stirred them till they were cooked. Like I said, I want kids who are comfortable and capable in the kitchen.
Having the goal of children who are capable and confident in the kitchen affected the way Doug and I parented Jack. We let him help us whenever he wanted to, let him use the stove, let him use knives—always with our supervision and help, of course, until we trusted he could handle the dangerous tools on his own.
Often, letting him help was a pain, more of a hindrance than a help. But holding the vision of that little girl making tomato soup on her own helped me to choose short-term hindrance in order to reach my long-term goal.
With Luke and Ben, I’m back to short-term hindrance: egg mess all over the counter, spilled salt, tomato sauce splattered on the stove. That’s okay. By the time they’re nine, they’ll be making dinner once a week, too.
Stephen Covey, of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People fame, has as one of his primary axioms, “Start with the end in mind.”
That’s what we did with Jack and cooking. We started with the vision of that little girl moving capably and confidently around the kitchen and we worked backward from there, asking ourselves, how can we help Jack become the confident, capable cook we want him to be?
But Stephen Covey’s words also pertain to things that are a lot more important than teaching my kids to cook. It pertains to things of the soul and the spirit and a life of faith.
If Doug and I want our children to become godly, faithful people when they grow up—and we do—then we need, first, a clear vision of what that looks like. We need to start with the end in mind and hold up pictures of the kind of young men and women we want our kids to be, the kind of adults we want them to be, the kind of parents and grandparents we want them to be.
I look at a couple of high schoolers I know—a boy who is generous and artistic and well-read, a girl who is passionate about using her developing leadership skills to help others, both of whom are courteous and respectful and articulate and love Jesus—and I think, that’s how I want my kids to be.
I see other young men and women in college or just out of college, who are thoughtful and gracious and passionate about the things of God, and I think, I want my children to grow up to be like them.
These people I admire (and want my children to admire) give me a vision for what is possible. It puts an image in my mind of what I am aiming for. And that picture keeps Doug and me going when we’re tired and we’d rather just not deal with this temper tantrum or that mess or this child’s whining or that child’s complaining. Keeping the end in view gives us strength to persevere, despite the messes, despite the fact that parenting this way takes way more time and energy and thoughtfulness and self-discipline than we think we have.
And we’re right: we don’t have enough. We are not enough. But God is.
And by God’s grace, flowing to us and in us and through us, we can persevere. We can hold up those pictures of young people and say, “Yeah, I’m tired now. Yeah, it’s hard right now. Yeah, I feel at my wit’s end. But I’m going to keep holding up this picture for myself and my kids to see, and I’m going to trust that God will give growth to these seeds I’m planting.”
The thing about starting with the end in mind is that it helps you keep the present in perspective. You can live with the egg-goo stuck to the stove this morning because you know that in six years, you’ll be freed up one night a week from the task of dinner-making. You can take the time to thoughtfully figure out how to stop your daughter’s nightly dramafest when it’s time to set the table because you know that in ten years, you’ll be reaping the benefits of a cheerful, helpful teenager. You can gently but firmly insist on daily family prayer because you know that in 20 years time, you’ll be overjoyed to see your kids raising their kids in Christ.
Those are the ends I keep in mind. They’re the vision that shapes my parenting now.
Usually, at the end of the day, I say my children’s baptismal verse over them as a bedtime blessing, but sometimes I switch it up, and one of my favorite alternate blessings is this one, because it captures so succinctly the kind of people I want each of my children to become. I share it with you here in the hope that, if you don’t already have a clear vision for your child’s character and conscience, this will give you a place to start:
Lord Jesus Christ, protect, preserve, and bless this child with a lively faith, a fervent charity, and a courageous hope of reaching your kingdom. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.