It never fails: somewhere between the sugar and the butter, I begin to question my choice. It’s been yet another crazy day in our home, and I’m at my wits’ end yet again. Was roping my small children into making cookies really the best way to combat the mess, the screaming and the bickering that had reached a boiling point? But I knew I’d had a choice: either spend the rest of the day retreating into my room, a book or the Internet, or find something productive to focus all of our energy.
Somehow, I happened upon this recipe for success for our family:
Take one mom. Add two to three kids (depending on whether it’s nap time for baby). Coat thoroughly with about 14,700 stressors, adjusting according to your taste and comfort level. Toss together, then pour into a crucible and stir well. Cook under high pressure until the mixture boils, but be sure not to leave on the heat so long that the mixture explodes. (It’s highly volatile!)
Pour the mixture into a small kitchen, and add the ingredients for your favorite kind of cookies. Mix well and bake until golden brown and delicious. Enjoy with a tall glass of milk and a deep sigh.
Baking is one of our go-to activities for when things begin to crumble around me (including my composure!). Cookies are a favorite choice for a snack; pancakes make a meal we can make together. In fact, when I asked my three-year-old what we should do the first day her big brother went to kindergarten, she asked to make pancakes because it’s something she loves to help with.
Baking isn’t our only fall-back, though it’s often our most productive (and delicious!) one. Some of our others include:
- Getting out of the house, often a quick trip to the grocery store or sending the kids out to play in the yard
- Television (or turning it off)
- Art projects, even as simple as just paper and markers
- Reading together for as long as I can
- Play dough
Through a lot of trial and mostly error, I’ve found the things that we can all enjoy, or the things that change up our routine enough to snap us out of a downward spiral. Our exact remedies depend on the situation and the day, of course, and there’s a bit of a cycle throughout the year.
Baking is a favorite in fall and winter, and whenever I’m willing to sacrifice my waistline for my sweet tooth and my sanity. But even baking isn’t the secret ingredient in making a perfectly smooth family life easy peasy lemon squeezy. It doesn’t instantly settle the arguments, wash the dishes or make me perfectly patient. In many ways, it’s exactly the opposite.
We do what we can to pass the responsibilities around, and make sure everyone is helping and gets along. We’re facing the same challenges in a smaller space and with a more concentrated focus. We all pack into the kitchen, and there’s a lot of competition for space around the mixer. Everyone wants to add the egg or the chocolate chips. And of course it only generates more dirty dishes.
Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes we continue to fight so much I send the kids out and finish the recipe myself. Sometimes I’m so stressed by the time we’re done that I devour half the batch before I let the children know the cookies are, in fact, cool enough to eat. But even when things go horribly awry, there are a few important changes in our menus when we add this new activity: we have a united purpose. We’re making something, using our creative powers together. But most of all, we’re having fun.
When we’re most successful, on the other hand, the magic isn’t just what happens when you stick gooey cookie dough in a hot oven for ten minutes. The break from our routine (or perhaps the temptation and motivation of coming cookies) is sometimes enough by itself to break the cycle of griping, sniping and swiping.
But I will admit the magic of a perfectly crunchy-chewy cookie is a close second.
Question: What do you do when you for an almost fail-safe activity that you all enjoy? How do you stop a vicious cycle in its tracks? What would you like to try the next time you see the situation is headed in that direction?
Challenge: The next time you see the tone in your home take a turn for the worse, try a new activity (perhaps something delicious and creative?) to stop the bad patterns of behavior.
Images from InterExchange USA and Chessa at Flickr.com.