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Why you need to let your kid wreck your kitchen

What do you get when you mix a recovering type A parent (me) with an extra credit project for school that requires making bread… gulp… from scratch? A mouth-watering treat and an unexpected parenting lesson.

When the middle school Spanish teacher sent home a baking project for the students this fall, my tween daughter insisted she wanted to do it. There were two versions of the traditional bread recipe, one super-easy and one very, very complicated.

Like most families, we are busy with sports, activities, appointments, homework, work and family commitments seven days a week. The last thing I wanted to do that Sunday morning was to get stuck in the kitchen for hours. For the record, baking in our house means slice ‘n’ bake cookies or unwrapping a prepared dessert.

I tried to say no, but when that didn’t work, I insisted my daughter do the easy recipe or none at all. Of course, she begged to do the complicated recipe that required yeast and hours letting dough rise. Barely awake, I was grumpy and negative and I wasn’t being nice. I envisioned a lot of work for me plus a wasted Sunday that would end with me cleaning up a huge mess.

Mean Mommy was in the house and wasn’t budging.

Then I saw the look in my 11 year-old daughter’s eyes and I stopped, took a deep breath, really listened to her and realized that this was not about baking bread from scratch at all. It was about my young daughter, my little girl who wasn’t so little any more, asking for my support and the opportunity to prove something to herself. As I sat there in my PJs in that tiny moment in my messy kitchen on an ordinary weekend morning, I realized my daughter just wanted to be allowed to grow up a bit. And so, I said yes.Yes to the bread but more importantly to responsibility, self-esteem, maturity, creativity and independence.

It turned out to be one of the best days ever! Watching her shop for the ingredients, assemble the cooking tools, create the recipe, knead the dough, bake the bread and then proudly share it with our family is a parenting moment I will never, ever forget.

Of course, the experience was not at all easy or filled with sweet smells wafting from the kitchen; there were frustrations, some smoke and it took me days to get my kitchen cleaned up and back in order.We also tore through our paper towel supply and I had to toss a sponge and a dishtowel in the trash while also keeping my mouth shut and letting my girl figure things out alone. But in letting my tween commit to a project from start to finish, I gave her so much and we both started the inevitable parental journey of letting go a little bit at a time. By letting my daughter do something on her own, I’m also letting her grow.

Right now I’m watching and standing by with pride as my daughter helps plan our weekly Sunday dinner, a brand new tradition that nourishes our bodies and our souls.

So grab your teen, the paper towels and a cookbook and get cooking. I promise you it will be much more than the recipe you’ll remember.

(Shhhh… secretly, I’m hoping that in a few years she can take over preparing the Thanksgiving meal!)

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