We never stop being parents. Even when our children aren’t “children” anymore, we will always have their best interests at heart. Unfortunately, the way we express our desires and plans could lead to potential conflict with our adult children. When Neal Black presented a parenting talk many years ago, I learned how our role as parents change as our child grows. We go from being a caregiver, to a coach and then finally to a consultant.
I have been a hospitality and catering professional for most of my adult life, so naturally food and cooking were an integral part of our daily lives as a family. So rather than thinking of my role as caregiver, coach and consultant, I will be looking at parenting through a culinary lens!
Parent as Head Chef / Children as Kitchen Hands
When my kids were young, I knew the heat from the oven or cooktop would be overwhelming for them. I tried to explain the potential dangers while cooking and used their curiosity to be informed about risks in the kitchen. So when it came to meals, I would do all the cooking — but they would help me with simple clean-up duties. This way they still felt involved and could participate while I did the major tasks.
I also always encouraged them to try different types of food instead of just fries and chicken nuggets. Kiddie meals were fun but I would often give them a bite of what my wife and I were eating, so they would be exposed to an assortment of flavours.
Just as I protected my children from the heat of the stove or from cutting themselves on sharp knives, when our children are young, it is our role as parents to take care of their basic needs and to protect them from harm. It’s also our job to teach them the difference between right and wrong and to expose them to a variety of experiences they can learn and grow from.
(I’m happy to report that my children now are adventurous about cuisines… well, at least two of them are! They are still relatively easy to feed, and all of them appreciate good food!)
Parent as Culinary Instructor / Children as Line Cooks
When they were in their teens, I made my children help out with meal preparation. I was their instructor, always guiding and teaching them.
I taught them knife skills, lectured about food storage principles and taught them the importance of dating and labelling prepared foods. I also took them to the grocery store and showed them the different cuts of meat and seafood that I used and the dishes one could make with various ingredients. I started them off cooking easy things like scrambled eggs and rice, and then moved on to basic sauteing and braising recipes.
As the years went by, I was able to see them grow more comfortable in the kitchen — and even develop a genuine love for cooking! They were able to follow recipes, make delicious home cooked meals from scratch and most importantly get comfortable with sharp knives, handling raw meat and dealing with minor grease splatters.
Our three kids all have different personalities and they learn in their own, unique way. Being a parent of teenagers required me to patiently discover what the most effective method of instruction is for each child. Some learn by doing, others need a helping hand while others may simply need a gentle nudge in the right direction! The key here is learning how to balance giving them the opportunity to be independent and responsible — while simultaneously being available at any time to help guide and instruct them.
Parent as Executive Chef / Children as Head Chefs
Fast forward to the present. Our three kids are now all young adults in their 20s. Baby #1 has transitioned from her high school days of selling chocolate chip cookies to making Basque Burnt Cheesecake. Baby #2 is the sous vide master of red meat while Baby #3 has stayed in the niche Japanese home style dishes that she loves to eat.
I thought they liked making big meals together. The problem was actually me! One day my daughter showed me a funny video on Tiktok about a mom taking over in the kitchen when the kids are cooking. It was so true!
I would hover over them and suggest turning up the heat or lowering the temperature.
“Use the big cast iron pot, no you should have used the little non-stick skillet. Can I taste it? Oooh, that’s a tad heavy on the salt, hmmm try adding some dark soy sauce, it’s not crispy enough…” I was driving them nuts!
A very wise woman named Jeaneth (my beloved wife) banished me to the family room whenever the kids wanted to take over the kitchen for Christmas or Thanksgiving meals. It was so hard for me! I could smell the wonderful aroma wafting from the kitchen and hear the bustle and sizzle. But I knew Jeaneth was right — I learned to sit back and wait.
As we ate they would discuss amongst each other how the dish could have been improved. I held my tongue. It was so difficult.
Eventually, a breakthrough occurred after several months of this behaviour. I overheard the kids discussing in a murmur, “How come it’s…”, “I don’t know..”, “What if we…?”
Until the magic words were uttered: “Dad can you come take a look at our dish”?
Of course I swooped in immediately and triumphantly, trying to be humble and gracious. “Oh, don’t worry about it, just simmer for another 20 minutes at a higher temperature and it will be great!”
I think that’s a key posture with regards to parenting our young adults. We underestimate their capabilities and judgment. Sometimes they need to make their own decisions, understand the gravity of the situation and accept the consequences.
Colossians 3:21 (CSB) says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they won’t become discouraged.”
I’m here to guide and support my adult children, not make them go stir-crazy with my micromanagement. As parents, when we create a safe space for our young adult children to independently make decisions, they will come back to us and ask for our opinion. Whether it’s about a career move or a difficult relational situation, the time to give advice is when it’s asked for. Our kids know that Jeaneth and I always have their best interests at heart, so they want to hear what we think about their situation. Because they know of our unconditional love for them and that our desire is not to control them, they will deeply consider our perspective.
Recently, my daughter was in town and made mushroom risotto with seared scallops. She asked me to taste the rice and check if the seasoning was on point. I happily took a spoonful and asked her opinion if she still wanted to adjust, she said, “Honestly no, but I just wanted you to try it!”
“It’s perfect the way it is. No need to do anything else. Let’s plate and eat!” I said.
“Thanks, Dad,” she said. But in my mind, what I heard was a YES, CHEF!