I think it is fair to say that most of us have no idea what we are doing when we first become parents. Or ever, really. I feel like I’m winging it all the time; that just became more obvious to me when I had kids. I realized that I kept consulting my childhood for tips. As ridiculous as that may sound, it has actually helped a lot in providing some perspective. I ask myself, “What would I have thought about this as a kid?” or “How did I handle it when my parents did _____?” Then I scour my childhood memories for moments that shaped me in some way.
One of the memories that I keep coming back to happened when I was about three. Maybe it’s because my kids are all still little and I relate to the multi-tasking that was happening in that moment. My mom was alternating between cooking dinner and coming into the playroom where I was playing/demanding attention. She kept walking in and showing me how to write my name or drawing something silly and then walking back out to the kitchen. After many trips back and forth she came in with an old Mexican coin. She set aside a moment to show me how to rub a crayon on paper over the coin to take the image. It’s a process we are all familiar with, but it was absolutely revolutionary for me in that moment. My mom put the little Mexican flag we made out of it on the fridge and I remember being so proud of it. I’m pretty sure I tried rubbing every object in the playroom to see if it would make something cool.
I think about this moment all the time. It was such a tiny speck in time and took very little effort from my mom. Honestly, it was most likely born out of frustration. This memory is both sweet, inspiring, and terrifying. How many little moments have I missed like this? I think about this when I’m deep in my to-do list and would rather not engage my kids completely. It would take so little from me to step out of my head and do something like this, and it could mean so much to my kids.
I also always think about my dad’s absolute ridiculousness—and I mean that in a good way. He could make anything fun. He taught me how to turn restaurant fare into spitball weaponry at a young age. Once, we got stuck on the sky ride that used to be by the zoo. We must have been stuck up there for at least a couple of hours. He made it feel like it was part of the ride, as though dangling there staring at the same part of the Japanese Tea Gardens for forever was totally intentional. It gave us plenty of time to sing every song we knew, and I’m quite sure my dad had to make up a few as well. This memory pops up at the worst moments—like when I’ve been sitting in a waiting room for 45 minutes with three kids and I’m letting my frustration show. Maybe I can try to be a bit like my dad in those moments, and they would have nothing but pleasant memories of waiting at the DMV (unlike the rest of us). Some less-than-fun moments could use a bit of optimism and brightening up instead of my usual.
Countless memories like these seem to pop up at the right time and show me a glimpse into a child’s perspective. Some memories help me steer the other direction and serve as warning signs of what not to do. I had a teacher get mad at me for coloring something incorrectly in Kindergarten. I brought her my paper to tell her that I’d made a mistake, and instead of hearing me and my process, she didn’t let me speak. It made me feel so small. That moment matters so many years later because I felt horrible during it. If I can avoid making my kids feel that way, I will.
While remembering childhood interactions has helped me see things a step removed from my current situation, the truth is that there are some days—a lot of them, actually—when I look back at my interactions with my kids and think, I would do that differently next time. I thought that I was asking myself the right questions by reflecting on how I would have reacted or responded as a child. But I think the reality is that I remember the good stuff. Parenting isn’t a science that is perfected and fine-tuned; we’re all just winging it. My parents did what they could and probably had days that they replayed in their minds and thought to themselves, I would do that differently next time, too.