Being a good parent is like making soup. For those of you who have never made soup, except out of a can I’m sorry. You are truly missing out.

When making a good soup you can of course follow a recipe. But, some of the greatest surprises are when you create a soup from what you have and then it is amazing. As you sip that steamy amazing broth and dip bread to absorb the flavor, you understand that you may never taste this exact soup again. You savor it. When it is gone, you attempt to replicate it, but only if you are lucky will you create the exact same flavor again.

When I make soup, I look in the fridge and review what we have and need to get rid of. If we’re lacking, I move toward the freezer. I may start with sautéing meat or onions, then I’ll add additional vegetables to create a depth of flavor. I may add some flour to the oil or butter to make a roux.

When I was volunteering in New Orleans at a shelter for people in the final stages of AIDS, I asked a number of the nurses, “Can I have your gumbo recipe?” They almost always replied, “Son, you just use whatcha got in da fridge, or you use Zataran’s.”

I had no working knowledge of the base of gumbo, how could I just throw things in? So I took a Cajun cooking class with some of the residents. I learned the basics of building flavor in a roux then adding onion, green pepper, and celery (the “holy trinity”), rice, and stock. From there, you add whatever you want sausage, turkey, chicken, shellfish, shrimp, or older veggies.

Building the Roux of Parenting

Parenting is the same as making a good gumbo or soup, you have to acquire a basic understanding of guiding principles. Once these are gained, your soup/children will usually turn out pretty darn good. Once you gain the flavors that build to a solid adult, you can starting thinking differently about what you are teaching your kids.

1. What does it take to be successful in adulthood?

We all define “success” differently. Where I went to school in Traverse City, everyone was expected to go to college. But why did parents value that over other things? To those parents, college represented being able to provide for yourself and have a career and standard of living that was more comfortable.

Is that what we should teach our kids, to be comfortable?

No, but I think the guiding idea was even deeper. The world is full of opportunities and challenges. Some of us are dealt better hands than others, but when we do something there is almost always a reaction that occurs. Some call this a “consequence”, others call this a “reward” or “punishment”, others call this a “speeding ticket.”

When we really look at the “roux” of life, when we do things there are almost always consequences, both positive and negative.

2. How do we teach this?

The more that we can outline natural consequences for decisions and let our children succeed or fail, the more they can learn those connections. The part of the brain (the frontal lobe) that connects behavior and consequence, does not fully develop in more adults until around age 22. Some newer research is showing that it may be even later. Thus, kids often need a parent’s help, even in college, connecting what they have done and what occurred as a result of it. Thus statements like…

They should know better.

Act your age.

Grow up and just do it.

…aren’t very helpful. Rather, describing children’s behavior helps them to identify what worked and did not work.

3. Failure builds confidence

Of course we don’t seek out to make our kids fail. However, we often seek to shield them from failure. To allow our kids to fail goes against our basic instinct of protection and safety. In our self-esteem-driven culture, a sense of entitlement has permeated kid’s and parent’s attitudes. When a child fails a test, the teacher is often blamed, rather than the child or parent. Working with your child to grow their own personal responsibility and experience appropriate failure will help them feel more in control. As they learn their own ability to make the world more how they want it, they will actually think more carefully about age-appropriate decisions.

Further, it allows the parent to step back and be more of a guide than a monitor.

With these basic building-blocks of parenting, you can try all sorts of new recipes for your own parenting soup.


counselor Traverse City counseling familyJoseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling in Traverse City, MI. He seeks to grow parent’s knowledge of basic concepts of parenting to create a better environment for raising kids.


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Thank you to Kevin Dooley for the image from Creative Commons


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