Are you familiar with the Peggy O’Mara quote, “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice”? For most people, this quote is inspirational. It’s a reminder to have patience with our children and be mindful of the words we use.
For me, it’s panic-inducing.
It’s not that I speak harshly or unfairly to my children. Objectively, if my voice becomes their inner voice, that’s probably a good thing. Of course, I lose my patience from time to time, but I’m kind to them even when I’m losing my shit.
But the idea that everything I say and do will shape their entire lives, including their inner voice, has me grappling for a paper bag to breathe into. That’s a lot of pressure, guys!
Not only do we need to feed, clothe, protect, and teach them, we have to become their conscience.
I signed up for parenthood willingly, but nobody mentioned I would become Jiminy Cricket too. I want to guide them and help them become good people who make good choices – but I don’t want to be their inner voice!
This also got me thinking about childhood memories. I have great childhood memories, which is good because I also have a freakishly accurate and detailed long-term memory.
I can’t remember where I left my house key (legitimately, if you find it, please let me know), but I have clear and verified memories from when I was less than two years old. It weirds my mom out on the regular.
I think about all the things my parents did with us, and the places they took us.
Then I look around at my children and wonder if we are doing – enough. Are we giving them enough good memories? Again, it’s not that we are giving them bad memories. We have a healthy, functional family life.
I don’t for a second worry we are giving them memories they will one day turn into a New York Times best-selling tell-all. There is just that creeping thought that what if my kids will just have average memories of their youth. What if they think back on their childhoods and go, “Meh.” Where is that paper bag?
We can’t afford to do big things like trips to Disney parks or many smaller outings like nearby attractions.
I have mobility problems due to a back condition, which limits what I can do with them that requires a lot of walking. My kids are going to have a lot of memories of going to the park and hanging out with us at home. Is that good enough?
Before I sold everything I owned to take a trip to see the big mouse, I stopped to really think about my happy childhood memories. Yes, we had a cottage, but were the happy memories from the building itself? We went on trips, but do I remember much about the specifics of them? We went on outings, but are those the memories I hold most dear? No.
The childhood memories I hold dear are not of the big things anyway.
What I remember is my dad getting a comedically extra long spoon at an ice cream parlour near our cottage, and pretending to feed the entire shop.
I remember playing the game Girl Talk with my sister and having to push a penny across the floor with my nose immediately after having to put lipstick all over my face like a clown, resulting in eyebrows completely covered in a dog hair coating.
There were nights watching America’s Funniest Home Videos, and this new show called The Simpsons. There were hours of driving in the car, listening to the same songs on the oldies radio station and collection of cassettes.
I remember reading until midnight in my room and playing house with my sister. Bubbles on the lawn, staying up past my bedtime on special occasions, and rolling my eyes at my parents’ stupid, boring TV shows are some of my favorite memories.
Looking through the eyes of my children, these are the memories they will have too.
Just typical, average, unspectacular, random memories of our everyday lives. They don’t need magical – they just need a loving family.
My mom once remarked that she feels guilty for how often she yelled at us when we were kids. I thought that was a weird statement, because I don’t remember my mom ever yelling at us.
I remember my second Christmas, and a park we stopped going to when I was two years old, but I can’t remember my mom yelling, even though she swears she did it frequently enough to feel guilt from it. There’s a lesson there too.
We are responsible for providing our children with stable, loving homes, and with proper guidance and tools to become good adults.
But we aren’t responsible for their memories. They will remember what was important to them, and we don’t get to decide what that is. Maybe it will be the trip to Disney – or maybe it will be an unnecessarily long spoon.