Michelle Martin

Give a child a can opener

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Some of you are probably familiar with the saga of “Bean Dad,” a man who wrote a 23-post Twitter thread about making his 9-year-old daughter figure out on her own how to use a can opener.

According to the now-deleted thread, it took the child six hours to get a can of baked beans open. The father offered hints, like advising her to look at the parts of the can opener so see how they might work together, but did not demonstrate how to use the tool and, he said, had to hold himself back from guiding her hands to open the can.

The sequence of events started when the daughter told her dad, who was busy with a jigsaw puzzle, that she was hungry. He told her to make herself baked beans; she responded by bringing him the can and the can opener because she didn’t know how to use it.

The dad said he realized it was a parenting fail that he had never taught his daughter to use a can opener, so he decreed that neither of them would eat until she got the can open.

I’m not naming the father, who deleted not just the thread but his whole Twitter account within 12 hours. I understand that not eating for six hours is not harmful to a healthy child, and that the father saw himself as being supportive because he abandoned his puzzle to encourage his daughter to figure it out.

I sympathize with the impulse to teach children to be independent. No one wants to be the kid who goes to college and doesn’t know how to do their laundry, or open a can, for that matter. But presenting a child with a puzzle and only giving general clues to how to solve it isn’t teaching; it’s a test.

Perhaps it was a lesson in perseverance. If so, it also taught the child that you can ask for help from someone who could help you, someone who loves you and has your best interests at heart, and they will refuse. Or at least make the task — learning to use a can opener — much more difficult.

In this case, it was a test the child passed eventually, a test no doubt made harder by the damage her many failed attempts had done to the rim of the can. The father said she was pleased and proud of herself when she finally got the can open.

I’m sure she was. But she also would have been proud of herself if her father had shown her how to attach the can opener and get the process started.

God the Father, we are told, spoke from the heavens to identify Jesus as his “beloved Son” when Jesus was baptized. When Jesus, that beloved Son, was confronted with hungry people, he fed them, much as his Father fed the Israelites in the desert.

But we, like the disciples who wanted to send the hungry people away to find food, too often want to test people, to make them prove themselves worthy of our time, of our attention, of our love.

That’s not what God does with us. He loves us first, feeds us first, teaches us first. That is the example we should follow.



  • family life