Day 16: Empowered children, terrible cupcakes

If I had one piece of advice for a new mom or dad it would be this: don’t start parenting strategies you don’t want your children to do back to you. Think giving your kids choices (that aren’t really choices) is a good idea? Someday they’ll be giving you rhetorically empty choices, too. For example, when your husband asks your daughter not to start making a second batch of ‘cupcake batter’ from actual ingredients in your kitchen, she might present him with these two (equally sound) options: (Note: a museologist is the job she has made up for herself, basically a scientist who works in a museum and tells people about things.)

“Do you want me to be a GOOD museologist who knows EVERYTHING? And an adult who knows how to do things? Or do you want me to be a HORRIBLE museologist, who doesn’t know how to do anything? IT’S YOUR CHOICE.”

Wow, Girl, when you put it that way, I see that I really do want to let you try to make cupcakes again completely by yourself even though you haven’t eaten dinner and it’s bedtime!

But let’s back up a little.

You know what happens when you empower children to believe that they can do things? They do things. Sometimes those things are charming and completely convenient for you. And sometimes it happens like this. You’ve just gotten home from costume day at your co-op (which was awesome, and also your daughter made a beautiful rainbow painting), and you’ve made the kids a plate of snacks, but they want more. You’re telling them to wait because you are trying to upload and tag adorable pictures of kids in costumes. They are watching PBS Kids. They go in the kitchen after watching an episode of Arthur. You hear some noises but you figure they’re getting some tortilla chips or at most, making toast. But then your son comes in and say they need help with the oven. The oven?

I won't post pictures of the kids in their Halloween costumes at co-op, but I can show you this one: Ted the Real Girl Bear went as the Little Mermaid.
I won’t post pictures of the kids in their Halloween costumes at co-op, but I can show you this one: Ted the Real Girl Bear went as ‘the Little Mermaid.’

You go in the kitchen and see ingredients on the table: milk, flour, olive oil, cocoa, baking powder, raisins, chocolate bits…but only one measuring cup and no measuring spoons. And a big bowl of batter. Really thin batter. They ask for the cupcake tin and cupcake liners. Your daughter throws an unopened bag of chia seeds at you and says she wants to add these sunflower seeds to the cupcakes. You explain about chia seeds and you stay cool. You know this is what you signed on for. You can see in their faces that they believe in these ‘cupcakes.’ They think they are doing a great job and that they are adequately following the ‘recipe’ they saw in that episode of Arthur.

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So you get them what they’ve asked for, and you let them fill the paper liners with thin batter on the kitchen floor, and then you put the tin in the oven for them. They cook! They rise! And they taste…terrible. But you don’t really say much about it. You don’t process this experience for them.  You know they’re disappointed, especially your son. You wonder what’s going to happen. Will he want to try it again tomorrow? You’ll leave that up to him. You just ask him to put the ingredients away, and tell him you’re proud of him for trying this on his own. Because that’s the truth.

4 thoughts on “Day 16: Empowered children, terrible cupcakes

  1. Wow, I really love your journey. And I remember my daughter making such cupcakes. But she learned, and she is a really good baker now (12 years old). I asked her one day, after a really bad tasting batch, if she wanted to learn how to follow recipes. She did.


  2. Oh I love this blog post! It’s wonderful! (I fell in love with it just from the title.). My Drama King made some cookies the other day for his Lego Party and told me he’d added an extra egg because the dough wouldn’t hold together. He was following a recipe but it turned out he had missed out the golden syrup. They weren’t too bad, after all. So the next batch we made had two eggs AND golden syrup. 🙂


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