How long do childhood memories last? What do adults remember from their childhoods? This topic is really interesting to me. Learning about this will offer a lot of insight that we as moms can leverage to be more intentional about and lean in more to parenting. The joy (and the struggle) is real. Read and be encouraged!
I've mentioned in this space a few times that I spent three years focused primarily on caring for my precious mother in love in her final years of life. It was a sacred privilege as well as quite draining to walk with her during that stage of her life. During those years I had a lot of quiet and solitary space to think about and ponder many aspects of childhood.
Childhood is the stage of life that is a deep and abiding passion of mine, and I want to share with you what I learned while I cared for someone in the very last stage of life. There were a lot of surprises and I received many rich insights.
The most surprising thing that I realized is that I had never thought about the lasting impact of the relationship between mothers and children before. My mother in love would, several times each day, reminisce about her parents. She spoke of them with such reverence and love, tenderness and joy. "They were such good parents." She said very often. Then she would go into details. She was in her nineties and still remembered the love her parents demonstrated. And it brought her joy. I want my children to remember me that way.
Stop now for a moment and try to picture each of your children at the age of 87 years. At that point they will have had careers, children, spouses, illnesses, heartbreaks, successes, disappointments, friendships, neighbors, houses, pets, and at the age of 87, much of that is gone. They are remembering all the things that really mattered... And you, their mother, will be at the forefront of their minds. You will have been gone for decades, probably, and yet you will live in their memory as clearly as if you had just tucked them into their beds fifteen minutes ago.
The years I spent with my mother in love, the time I spend with my still living ninety year old mother, and the frequent visits I have with the very elderly people in our church have taught me that no matter what the decades of life bring, at the end of life your mother is what you remember most. Your mother is what you will remember most. Your children will remember you more than anything else when they are in their very last years of life.
What will your children say about you when they are, once again, as vulnerable as newborns? What will they remember? I have had dozens, if not hundreds, of conversations with people in their 80s and 90s about their mothers and, trust me on this, those memories are not all pleasant. In fact, many of them still feel the sting of rejection and neglect that they felt as children; they feel it as keenly as they did when it was fresh.
Here are some insights I have gleaned from those dear friends that I have known in their old age. Some have passed on and some remain, but they have taught me more about childhood and parenting than they will ever know.
Here are my top tips for creating positive memories that your children can take throughout their entire life spans.
1. Memories are formed in the small, repeated moments. Your children may remember a few things about your budget busting trips to the big box theme parks but what they will remember most is how you responded to them on a daily basis. Things like their request to leave their bedroom door open and turn on their night light before leaving their room at night. They will remember that you looked them in the eye as they were telling about the class mate that scares them. They will remember your last day of school traditions. And the first day of school rituals. They will remember that you made their favorite side dish every Thanksgiving even when they were 32 years old. They will remember family game time, but only if it happens very often. They will remember your habits, not your grand gestures.
2, They know how you feel about being their parent. If your parents resented the interruption and burden that parenting put on their lives, then you know what I'm saying here. If they didn't, it probably hasn't occurred to you that some parents find no joy in their children. These self absorbed moms and dads neither know nor care how hurtful this rejection is and how this will impact their children for a life time. Check in on your attitude toward being a parent. Have you come to appreciate the influence mothers have on the world? Have you decided to harness that influence to effect beautiful changes among humans? If you resent parenting, your children know it. Trust me on this. They know it whether or not you say it. Wrap your mind around just how much you matter to your children and enjoy this season. Enjoy your children and parenting. Choose to find the joy.
3. Engage. Stay checked in. Tune in to your children's words and actions. Be responsive. Notice what is going on. Put. Down. Your. Phone. Your children will be grown in the blink of an eye. I know that when you are drowning in diapers and bottles, temper tantrums and piles of plastic toys it is hard to believe, but time flies by at a super sonic rate. Try to take it all in and find the fun. You will gain nothing by rushing toilet training and the other things we want to happen quickly. Slow down and notice it all. Take your time.
Mothers and, in many instances fathers, have the single most important individual impact on every society. The role of healthy, engaged parents is vital to making sure that we as humans rise. We can overcome our tendencies to violence and greed, hate and fear through better parenting. And yet, as a society, we have decided to deny, negate, and belittle the role of mothers. More on that next week. Stay tuned. Me on that soap box is a train wreck you won't want to miss.
I firmly believe that our society needs better parents far more than anything else. So many of our communal problems will diminish tremendously within one generation if we begin to have regard for and commitment to motherhood. Be the change you wish to see in the world by being the mother that is needed in the world.