A revised version of this post was featured on on February 11, 2010.

When we have visitors the kids like to get in the kitchen and play a game called Chopped. It’s based on a television cooking show where chefs create entrees and are judged on taste, presentation and originality.  The chef who doesn’t measure up is eliminated from the competition.

When they play at home, the eliminators (usually the moms) use a point system for each category and are instructed to never declare a tie.

They want a clear winner and they want the truth.  Just like in the show.

Now I’ve watched the program and I see how this works. When the professional chef gets the ax, the camera follows them out the door and down the hallway under the guise of getting an exit interview but mostly just to capture the emotion of losing.  It’s a vulnerable time where some chefs look tough, some are crying and some look as if they prefer to hit the camera man with a frying pan.

Chopped contestants in this weekend’s Woz family kitchen jockey for top honors by playing to their strengths and pointing out the other’s weaknesses. Usually on the show this is done by the commentator.  Evidently the game just isn’t as fun if it isn’t done without constant criticism. Harsh, but we know that kids can be tough on each other. Much tougher than parents will be.

As moms in the hot seat of judging, we try our best to ignore all the antics and concentrate on the duty at hand knowing we cannot get out of putting the creations in to our mouth even when the secret ingredient is say, clam sauce.

Moms are brave.

And we must also separate our desire to make everyone happy.  We steel ourselves to chop the offending dish and chef, and hope that good manners prevail and the losers are good sports.

Unlike every other time, the youngest in the group and also the one who cries foul when she doesn’t win,  has locked-in the presentation and originality category – best two out of three – and has avoided the chop!

Unfortunately, going against two older cousins hasn’t historically gone well and she is so sure she is going to lose,  that when it is announced she has won two out of three,  she stomps off at the indignity of not taking all honors! She shoves her brother in the hallway and shouts in an angry tone over her shoulder something about the other contestants influencing the judges, and then slams the door to her bedroom.

She was so sure she would not win, that even when she does, she cannot accept the honor.  She has self- sabotaged her own win with her excessive worry of failure.

The other judge, a social worker friend of mine, shares a summary of a recent workshop she attended.  It concluded that young men and women entering college are finding themselves paralyzed by the fear of failure and some are getting lower grades than they imagined for themselves and are avoiding degrees in known challenging studies such as the hard sciences.  College counselors are experiencing more anxious students engaging in more self-destructive behaviors who seek the easiest route to the most glory.

Unfortunately, they are finding there is no easy route.  And they are angry, depressed, and frozen.

I wonder if my daughter is going to spend more years in a therapist’s chair than she will in college and once in the workforce will she be left behind, in a mediocre job with limited creativity, a crabby and angry woman who slams doors and isn’t willing to put in the time to improve either?

Will she fall into the ranks of the many graduates who return home to the welcoming arms of parents without the job that school is supposed to prepare them to take and without the stable job that declares her a successful adult… And how angry will she be then?

We came to one conclusion as we sat sipping tea and tasting the creations from the cooking competition:  Kids learn best via honest feedback and less fake-fairness.

If she hasn’t made a chopped recipe worth eating, then spare her the niceties, no accommodations for her age, no adjusting for never winning the best tasting category, no sugar-coating the unpalatable truth.

As I roll the dessert she made around on my tongue, this strange combination of oyster sauce and brown sugar, I seek a way to say something nice.  But instead, with the strength of another caring parent to back me up,  the mom judges decide to follow the rules of the game,  just like the rest of the world will.

Spare no chef! Spare no truth! “This cookie tastes like a fish taco,” and we swallow hard and brace for the fit throwing,  “and,  you have been chopped!”


A.Woz for Childgrower Blog and EP


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