Division of labour is key to modern theories of work efficiency. A larger activity is broken into parts and different persons complete the different parts to achieve a certain goal. Gaining a little bit of efficiency in daily kitchen chores certainly doesn't seem like a bad idea.
But in daily family life, the tricky step from theory to practice can be this moment of dividing an activity (like cooking and meal preparation) into separate parts and assigning tasks to different family members.
Often in the kitchen, a parent will think, "I'll just do it quickly myself" − while the kids sit with their noses glued to their screens and the au pair is in her room doing her own thing. The first step of getting everyone involved and engaged can simply seem too complicated when one needs to have a meal ready in 30 minutes.
But on certain days with the right preparation, common cooking can be a great way to bring the family together and really get the most out of the au pairing situation. After all, effective division of labour depends on different individuals having different skill sets and proclivities. And that's exactly what happens when everyone gathers in the kitchen.
A role for everyone
Five-year-old Daniel can set the table (maybe not perfectly but good enough). 8-year-old Francine can cut up some zucchini. Au pair Klara can get the water boiling for pasta and make the salad dressing. Mom or Dad can be giving guidance as required and getting the pork chops ready for frying. Everyone is doing something useful, the work is getting done more quickly, maybe some good music is playing in the background, and to put it simply, this is one great version of what people call "quality family time".
Different skill levels
Different au pairs come to their host families with very different levels of cooking skills. Regardless of how expert a particular au pair may be, sharing meal preparation together with her and the kids is a great opportunity to teach and to learn − for the au pair, for the kids and for you as the "real adult". If the au pair is experienced in the kitchen, then for sure you'll find out something about the cooking culture of her (or his) home country. If the au pair is more of a novice, then hands-on training with immediate feedback is the best way for the au pair to get better and to take on more responsibility as time goes on.
When your kids experience this common work for a common goal they learn a key lesson about family life (and life in general). Nobody needs to be perfect but everybody has to make a contribution. And when they see that the au pair is also not perfect, but making an effort and learning something new, then they are inspired to make an effort and learn themselves.
Step by step
And when one shared cooking endeavour is completed, the next will certainly be easier to manage. Each participant becomes familiar with his or her role and can fulfil it a little bit better. Parents also get the chance to show au pairs what they expect in the kitchen so that the au pair is in a good position to take on the lead role with the kids when no parent is available to help out.
But the first step is overcoming that feeling that it will all be too complicated and that it is easier to do it alone. Not in the long run!
- How does your family manage sharing tasks at mealtime?
- What techniques do you use to get kids and the au pair involved in cooking and cleaning up?
- Do you have pictures (or recipes??) to share?
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