Important things my kids will learn these holidays

By Emma Toomey.

As school holidays arrived, and I found myself yet again hurtling towards the inevitable happy chaos of a large family Christmas, I again bemoaned the domestic ineptitude of my darling children. The normal circumstances that seem to keep things chugging along in a fairly civilised manner – helping with dishes, taking out rubbish, feeding the dog, putting dirty clothes in basket – had disappeared as the silliness of the season descended.

Why couldn’t my kids help with the washing/cooking/cleaning that so routinely falls to the adults of the household, I wondered? I’ve always considered it an important part of my parental responsibility to unleash capable and self-sufficient young adults on the world, so where was I going wrong? I was clearly off course.

Important lessons my kids will learn these holidays

What is this strange machine?
Image by aLindquist/Flickr

One morning as I was going over my seemingly endless to-do list, my almost 13-year-old audaciously requested poached eggs for breakfast. “Don’t be helpless,” I barked. “Get them yourself.” His frustrated reply: “I’d love to get them myself but you’ve never shown me how to make them.”

It was an eye-opening moment. How could he know when he’s never been shown? We’re so often warned to be conscious of  the behaviours our children are observing in us and absorbing as if by osmosis – arguing, drinking habits and swearing. But unfortunately ‘monkey see monkey do’ doesn’t extend to domestic duties. I was imposing unrealistic expectations on my children to perform tasks they had never been properly taught. Using a washing machine and cooking a meal are activities that I perform so regularly that I don’t give them a second thought, but at some point along the way someone showed me the ropes; they showed me which buttons to press and how to crack an egg.

My resolution these holidays is to take the time to demonstrate to my kids a few important household jobs, step-by-step. They actually like the idea of having a small but impressive repertoire of recipes to impress their future partners, and even if the fine art of vacuuming behind the couch carries a little less romance, I think we’ll all benefit.




  1. Great reminder, show show show. My mum bought me a washing basket for my 15th birhday and handed over the reins. I guess it would be kind of handy to ‘show them’
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  2. I teach my girls to cook and use the washing machine. That’s it at the moment. They do love cooking. Rachel xx
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  3. I’ve shown my two-year-old how to do a few things – but don’t worry, there’s no actualy expectation that she’ll carry them out herself for a while yet! Nor that she’ll remember how to when the time comes.
    Great reminder to do things together rather than for, or on automatic pilot. Thanks.

  4. Oh man, I would be seriously happy and impressed if my daughter knew how to use the washing machine. But at 14 months I think I might have to wait a few more years for that. Lol!

    Seriously though, its definitely true that sometimes you just expect someone to know how to do something because its something that you do so often that you don’t even think about it. When my parents went overseas last year, leaving my two youngest sisters and brother at home by themselves for the first time, it was really interesting the calls my other sister and I would get about how to do different things. The three of them were 19, 21 & 23 but unlike A and I had never lived out of home so weren’t sure on things like cooking certain basics and tips for cleaning and other household chores that you kinda figure out over time once you’ve had a place of your own or that A & I called Mum to ask. Something I will try to remember as Mia gets older.
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    • I will be seriously displeased if my kids get to that age and can’t look after themselves. So, I guess it’s up to me!

  5. Ahhh yes, I too have fallen into the old trap of doing all the chores myself, – quicker, no nagging, done properly etc etc, but as my kids are getting older, I too am becoming aware that unless they have the opportunity to learn ( and make mistakes learning ) then I risk sending them out into the big, wide world without the necessary life skills to look after themselves.Thanks for the reminder Emma that unless we take the time as parents to teach them, how do they learn? By the way, at 43, I still haven’t mastered the art of poaching eggs…..

  6. I am a tough Mum on this stuff. Three children have now left home and just down to one teenage son – all have been through the how to do it stuff. Just now getting teenage son into how to cook basics. My saving grace on time …. I had all my children doing their own laundry at 16 with limited help so they learnt how to. It also somehow stopped the dumping of clothes on the bedroom floor incidents. Not as much fun to clean it up and wash and iron it when you have to do it yourself. I get very frustrated when things are done with half effort. So I just kept calling them back to redo it until they learnt to do the chore properly the first time.

  7. K has been doing chores since she was 3 ! Now she is older (and still an only child !) she continues to do more chores and cooks once a week. She has to decide what to cook and let me have a list or else go shopping herself for what she needs – it has certainly been an eye opening experience for her !!
    Have the best day and good luck !

  8. We actually had this ah hah moment with our teenage son a few months back when we went out and left the oven on. He was home so we rang and asked him to turn it off – but he didn’t know how! After that we have been teaching him how to cook his favourite meals and other household domestic duties!
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  9. My kids are not really old enough to cook meals yet, but I was listening a great podcast the other day about a woman who spent a year teaching her 5 kids to basically take over all the household duties. She was reacting to the entitlement attitude that she saw in her kids. She suggested that kids actually thrive when they are expected to do stuff and made to feel that they are capable. So I’m about to read her book and start encouraging my cherubs to do more.
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    • Yes, I’ve read plenty about how good it is for kids to feel like they are capable and contributing. So next time a teenager complains about cleaning, we just need to say: “It will make you feel really good about yourself”. 🙂

  10. My three (Mr11, Ms14 and Mr15) have been doing their own laundry for a few years now, and they can all do at least some basic cooking – the boys can be pointed at a recipe and reliably produce an edible meal. I have plans this holidays to make sure they all know how to vacuum, clean a bathroom and mop a floor – oh yeah, I’m going to be ever so popular by the end of the month.
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  11. This is great! My boys are still only toddlers but you can see that they’re already taking a general interest in some of the domestic chores we do. They helped their father take the rubbish out the other day. It’s never too early, is it?
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    • Not at all, but from my experience the little kids love the helping out, then the novelty wears off some time in primary school 🙂

  12. My 13 year old is the easiestteen to teach and can stir fry and hang up clothes, do bins etc … but not put on the washing… not put on the dishwasher. It’s so true that we need to take the time to apprentice the kids to us so that they do learn.
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  13. Chloe (15) can cook: all desserts with perhaps a cheese toasty and some scrambled eggs thrown in. She can, however, read a recipe and follow it which is a gift I certainly don’t have.
    The washing machine might well be an ancient Greek speaking alien from another galaxy living in our laundry. It is a strange being. Perhaps she might like to meet it and see if it’s friendly this holidays. Charlotten(9) is the neatest child I have ever met with a clear gift for washing and cleaning. Useful. She also makes mean gingerbread. Let’s hope her future flat mates have a sweet tooth.

    • I would embrace a dessert chef in this house! I may even exempt them from all other household duties if they just kept a steady stream of desserts coming.

  14. Yes eys yes! I had never thought of this either.. When I was nannying I used to get so frustrated thinking, surely they can do some of this on their own.. But I was getting paid, so it was easier for me to think, oh well i geuss its my job..again.. But you are so right, how would they know unless they are shown/taught. I hope you get through a giant list of teaching and then you can just chill out sometimes!

  15. So true!
    We often forget to teach those fundamentals. I know it’s something my husband is much better at than I am
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    • I think that’s because – generally speaking – women tend to just do it themselves because it’s always been “their job”. Shouldn’t be that way though!

  16. Oh very yes!

    I always thought it was easier to do it myself and when I got that first phone call from my newly flown daughter asking how to boil an egg I realised I had done her a disservice.

    • I must admit I still call my mum to ask her for household help. But it’s usually – “the meat is 2 days past its use by – can I eat it?” Her generation always says yes.

  17. Very true, they do absorb so much don’t they. But not everything. Hope you get to benefit from their new found skills.

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