Did you know that in 2017 a study found that a third of UK young adults didn’t know how to boil an egg or cook Spaghetti Bolognese? 40% said that they would have no idea how to cook a roast dinner.
Basic life skills such as cooking, budgeting and even seemingly obvious things such as working a washing machine are often listed by young adults as things they wish that they had known before they moved out of their childhood homes. I was one of those people.
When I moved out at 17, I had no idea how to do even the most basic things. My only real experiences of the kitchen, outside of school food tech lessons, involved covering myself in eggs and exploding a sandwich toaster. My mum didn’t like having children in the kitchen, so I had never really learned.
I also had no idea how budgets worked, what a good housework routine looked like or how to use any standard household appliances. Pretty much everything was done without me noticing, so when I was suddenly living with a new baby and my ex-husband (then boyfriend) I was thrown in to the deep end a bit.
It took a long time and a lot of trial and error for me to figure things out. My ex-husband did a lot of the cooking and handled the majority of the finances, so it wasn’t until I became a single parent at 25 that I really learned how to be an adult. I was suddenly faced with a world of direct debits, meal planning, school events and countless other things to think about. At one point, I genuinely phoned my mum up so that she could give me step by step instructions on how to boil an egg! I had to learn fast!
As a parent, I have been very aware of how my experiences shaped me and how, in turn, I can use that to shape my children. I knew very early on that I wanted them to be more self-sufficient than I had been so that I wouldn’t worry quite so much when the time came for them to leave home. Now that I have two teenagers in the house, I think that it is more important than ever to teach them the skills that I wish I had known.
1. Doing the washing.
This started very young with each of the children helping to organise socks, putting the wash powder in the right drawer and learning which clothes went in which drawers when they needed to be put away. Now, my 14 and 16-year-olds can fully wash, dry, sort and put away washing without needing any extra help. So, at least I know they will always have clean clothes.
Again, I started cooking with the children from pretty much as soon as they could walk. First, baking fun things such as fairy cakes and gradually moving on to proper meals. All of the children love to get involved with cooking and now that the oldest ones are teenagers they cook for the family a couple of times a month which has the added bonus of giving me a night off. My 14-year-old makes amazing enchiladas!
I didn’t know how to work a drill until I was 32. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but it’s true. I had always left any jobs involving power tools until someone else could do them for me.
During the first UK lockdown in March 2020, I decided (along with most of the country) to use the time to work on some home improvements. This meant learning how to put up shelves, upcycling furniture, redecorating various rooms and laying new flooring in the kitchen. I even made my own shelves out of some old scaffold boards I bought from Facebook marketplace.
While I taught myself new skills, I made sure that the children learnt too. My 14-year-old painted and upcycled all of her own bedroom furniture and even my 7-year-old can now safely use a mouse sander, although obviously with supervision. These new skills are something that I hope will carry through to when they are adults and have homes of their own.
To me, this is probably the most important life skill that I could pass on to my children. Without the ability to manage personal or household finances, it leaves you open to spiralling debts and long-term financial struggles. I regularly talk budgets with the older children, talking about how much ‘spare’ money we have each week and whether or not something that they have asked for is affordable. Recently, this has moved on to letting them take charge of our weekly food budget. They have to create a meal plan for 3 meals a day, plus snacks and treats, and then use my online grocery account to put everything they need for their plan in to the basket.
If it comes in under budget then that’s great! If not, they have to go back to their plan and work out what they can change or tweak so that it fits. I feel that by doing this, they will learn that finances are a finite resource. No matter how much you earn, you can only spend up to that amount. Hopefully, it will help them to avoid falling in to some of the pitfalls I fell in to while I was figuring everything out.
What life skills do you wish you had known before you lived on your own?
Are there specific things that you are trying to teach your children?