It began out of exasperation. Due to the logistics of Craig walking in the door at 5:45 pm and the smallest boy heading to bed at 6:30 pm, I’ve been cooking evening meals for the past few years. Craig is also allergic to cooking vegetables: something my mothering bones cannot manage with three very active boys in the house.

Then weekend meals somehow became my domain as well. Cooking on the weekend is not so bad: there’s more time to get my act together and fewer things to fit in before bedtime. I can create and extend my culinary expertise in ways that torment as much as they thrill.

I was pretty fed-up, though, at having to create reasonably healthy and reasonably quick meals every night of the week. So I invented Fend For Yourself Fridays as an attempt to cut down on my workload. And the dishes. And the grocery shopping. And my stress levels.

The idea is simple: apart from the three year-old everyone has to prepare, eat and clean-up their own dinner each Friday night. The three year-old and I work together and he’s well practised at licking spoons due to my addiction to baking muffins.

This all went well for a few months. The older boys became proficient at the basics of cooking eggs and things which began life in a can. Craig mumbled a bit, but our house is often noisey and I don’t think anyone heard him. Then we began to ease the boys into watching the tele again (long story short: our kids are VERY reactive to any electronic stimulation, so we cut it out altogether for many years.)

Foolish Mumma turned on Master Chef.  It looked harmless enough. Then it morphed into: Master Chef Australia. Master Chef New Zealand. Junior Master Chef. All Stars Master Chef. The older boys took all this to heart. Of course they did.

The experiments began: cake batter with no flour; pasta with sauces as yet undiscovered by civilisation; desserts that include chocolate, lemon-honey, tin-foil and milk. The mess has been horrendous. The rescuing I have had to do has been unprecedented. My oven is a mess and so is my kitchen floor. (OK, they were already a mess – but more so.) The Friday night dishes pile has evolved to look like something akin to the Himilayas. Before erosion.

The arguing over space is intense. The laughter hurts my stomach muscles. The learning is awesome.

The joy on the boys’ faces when they eat something they’ve invented and cooked for themselves is like no other I’ve seen in them. They share their results and they make suggestions to each other as they cook. They rate each others meals and plating skills. They don’t even raise an eye-brow when they have to dry extra dishes.

Unintended outcomes: for sure.  Do I love it: absolutely. Will I keep the ritual: too right!

Have you ever made plans, as a mother, which have had unexpected and delightful outcomes?

This is an original post by Karyn Van Der Zwet. You can also find her on her own blog. She can often be found on Facebook and rarely on twitter ‏@kloppenmum. She is the author of Why People Drive You Crazy which is available in print and for Kindle through amazon.com. Her second book: All About  Tantrums is incredible and will be released when the planets align themselves in an appropriate manner.

Photo credit to rootsteven.  This photo has a creative commons attribute license.

Karyn Wills

Karyn is a teacher, writer and solo mother to three sons. She lives in the sunny wine region of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand in the city of Napier.

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