It’s really sweet. They love to lend a hand and don’t mind getting their hands dirty. There’s no need to pay them for the help they give — to them, the experience is its own reward. But there is one downside to getting all this help from a preschooler: Their work can be on the shoddy side. Like, so-bad-I-had-to-redo-it-when-they-weren’t-looking shoddy.
It’s usually difficult to correct the things they’ve helped you with ... remember that time you thought it would be fun to let them frost their own birthday cupcakes? ... because 3-year-olds are notoriously proud of their work. They get more than a little upset when Mommy insists on putting more than a tablespoon of jelly on the PB&J they wanted to make by themselves. What’s a mom to do?
Kids like helping with so many different things, but their favorite things to help with are dangerous things. If they see you near an open flame, unidentified chemicals or hot, popping bacon grease, there’s no way they’re leaving without getting a job to do. The only solution in this case is to make their related job very small and insignificant and have it take place very far away from the danger. Unless you have a better idea, of course.
So when I’m making bacon and my 3-year-old daughter can’t seem to fight her urge to somehow be involved, I just crack open some eggs, take her far away from the stovetop and let her start stirring them. It’s a win for me because she looks really cute while she’s being so careful, barely stirring the eggs and sometimes not even managing to pop the yolks, not to mention that it gets her away from the danger zone. It’s a win for her because she’s technically involved in breakfast preparation, even if Mom is mean and won’t let her single-handedly make the bacon.
When I’m doing homework and my daughter wants to “help me with the letters,” I don’t know how to turn her down. She’s so proud of her alphabet knowledge and I don’t have the heart to tell her to stop drawing the letter M on my term paper. Plus, I always secretly hope my professor will look at my paper, see the child’s writing, smile and give me an A+ for being a good mom. It hasn’t happened yet, but I’m trying to stay optimistic.
The help that children extend is not always of the highest quality. It doesn’t always result in a perfect paint-by-numbers picture and it rarely leaves you with a clean house. But there’s something really fantastic about the help they offer. Their enthusiasm is a rare thing in this world, and truth be told, I’d rather have an inexperienced, excited 3-year-old next to me in the kitchen than a boring old adult any day (no offense, Michael).
Letting kids get involved might not make for the cleanest, most efficient way to get things done, but it’s definitely the most fun.
(Editor’s Note: Debra Carpenter is a novice mother, wife and college student. She writes a weekly column on the comedy of motherhood and blogs for The Huffington Post. She’s online at MotherInterrupted.com and Twitter @interrupted_ma.)