I remember one evening very early in our marriage, I was in the kitchen cooking dinner. Michelle had one of her friends visiting with us, and we were all chatting together. I can’t remember what I was cooking, but I do recall at one point Michelle stepping in and correcting me on what I was doing. It was something like “don’t do it like that, do it this way”. Quick as a flash her friend interjected, “Michelle what are you crazy!? Don’t get in the way of a man cooking in the kitchen, I would do anything to see my husband cooking in the kitchen”. With a smile on my face, I carried on without a word…it was a small victory, but it was mine.
Why was a man cooking dinner in the kitchen such a spectacle? For Michelle and I, it was normal for us to share the household duties from the very beginning of our marriage. We talked about the job list at home regularly – what needed to be done, and who would take which task on. Generally, cooking was shared half-half, with each of us electing to cook on particular nights.
Maybe for some men, cooking has become scary and intimidating. Those that can cook do it so well, that it seems like too hard a task to the novice. And then there’s the celebrity chefs, interestingly many of whom are men, who cook these amazing dishes and sell it as being all so easy. Whatever the reasons, what we know is that despite most families being duel income households, women are still doing the majority of the domestic chores like cooking. This is neither fair nor sustainable. Things need to change, or else the strain will take an unhealthy toll on marriages, and in fact it already is. It is becoming more and more important for couples to share domestic life. So let’s start with sharing the cooking of meals.
First, ladies I need to suggest a change on your part. If we are going to encourage your husbands to cook more, we need to have an attitude of anything goes. We are looking at turning the tide around here. Fathers have been removed from the kitchen for generations, and many have lost the basic skills and instincts. Michelle’s friend was right to say – ‘hey get out of his way’. If it is ‘dad’s night’, then let it be simple, easy, boring, and whatever he can muster. Heck, the kids will probably like it anyway! If we correct and criticise dads for having a go in the kitchen, then they will be less inclined to try to cook. And there you will be, complaining about doing all the cooking. So if it is dad’s turn to cook, show appreciation for his efforts and over time he might become more confident to try out new things. But importantly, your children, and your grandchildren will benefit from these small beginnings, as over time you will instil in your family gender neutrality when it comes to cooking.
Second, and this is to the men, you need to just have a go. If it is your night, and you don’t feel confident in your cooking skills, maybe cheat a little to begin with. Buy a cooked BBQ chicken, pre-prepared salad, and some Turkish bread from the supermarket. Take it home and ‘plate it up’ like the say on the cooking shows – call it your warm chicken salad, and add some nice dressing you found. Your family will enjoy it, but importantly it will build your confidence in your ability to make a meal for your family. From here you can then try following some basics, like ‘meat and three veg’ combinations. With a little seasoning, sauces or gravy, this will always be a winner with kids. From here you will start to feel you can cook almost anything. So start with simple ideas and build from there. But have a go! It’s the only way to learn, and if there’s something I have learned so far about life, its’ that if you don’t choose to learn or change, life will do the teaching for you whether you like it or not.
When I was about 9 years old my mother became seriously unwell and spent considerable time in hospital. Dad was in the army, and there was only so much compassion the army would show a family man. So dad had to take care of us four kids, juggling with his work and visits to mum in hospital. He had never cooked much before, so he just had to have a go. We still tease him to this day on the dinners we ate for about a 4 week period – a rotating menu of three meals; meat pies, chips, peas and gravy; sausages, baked beans and mashed potato; lamp chops and frozen veges. But to his credit he managed. He never made comments about ‘us men’ doing the work of women in the kitchen. We cooked together, and it felt normal and right. There was nothing fancy about any of the meals on offer, but our tummies were full and we were well nourished. We were in awe of our dad that he could take care of us so well. It became a part of our framework for understanding our role as future fathers, which included the ability to manage and contribute to domestic life.
The world is changing so fast and the ways of the past are no longer valid for many families. We have to adapt. It can no longer be seen as acceptable to ‘expect’ women to do the majority of the housework, especially in families where both couples work. We have to share the load, and a simply start can be father’s having more of a go in the kitchen. And remember ladies, if he is willing to have a go, stay out of the way.
PS – Ironically Michelle was right, I was about to do something wrong with what I was cooking, but don’t tell her that!