Parenting “Perfection” and Childhood Memories
How much do you remember from your childhood?
There are a few things that I think I will never forget from my childhood.
One of them is my dad when he came home after work. His starchy, brown, creased uniform pants. His soft, tan, button-down shirt. His scent: A mixture of sweat and boiler rooms and grease, tinged with Ivory soap from his shower the night before. Warm hugs and scratchy kisses from a five o’clock shadow. He was always happy to see my brother and me, always tired, and always glad to be home.
Yet somehow I always knew that he felt guilty for how much he worked, especially the nights when he came home well after dinner time.
I’ll always remember the acrid, metallic smell of a boiler room because I’d been in one once or twice with him. Dad spent 30 years with the Howard County Board of Education in their HVAC department.
I remember a few times when Dad had to go in to work on a Saturday, and he would take us with him. I don’t know where my mom was during those times. Maybe she was working, too. Or maybe she just needed a break from us insane heathens. Believe me, I don’t blame her.
We didn’t often accompany him into boiler rooms, but rather to his office, which happened to be an old, former school building, that at the time had become the offices for various school system maintenance crews.
You may think it sounds absolutely awful to be dragged to a parents’ work on a Saturday. To a dirty, smelly old school.
The funny thing is, I don’t remember going to work with him as being awful. Maybe I complained at the time, but I don’t remember that.
I remember it being fun.
He would bring our bikes or our roller blades and let us ride up and down the halls. There were awesome ramps between the split levels of the halls to try to break our limbs racing on.
We would dare each other to take just a few more steps into the darker reaches of the building. Old, empty schools are delightfully scary places to children.
His offices had those old printers that spit out continuous sheets of dot matrix paper. We brought crayons and created masterpieces on the scrap sheets, or just spent time separating the pages from their perforated edges.
Afterwards, on the way home, we frequently got to have Happy Meals for lunch.
I don’t know why I still have these memories. Certainly they are not memories my dad intended for us to keep. What parent wants their children to remember being dragged into their workplace on Saturdays? I’m sure he figured we would forget about it and the events would be replaced with much happier occasions.
While I do remember other happy, special events, I also quite vividly still remember going to work with my dad.
I don’t resent these memories in the least. On the contrary, I cherish them.
Now that I am an adult, I can appreciate them for the fact that they are memories about having parents who did what it took to make decent lives for us. I don’t know how much money we had or didn’t have. I know we ate a lot of canned foods, but we didn’t go hungry. We had a house and toys and bikes to ride. We had parents who worked hard, even if it meant taking the kids to work on a Saturday.
My point is this: not every memory we make with our children has to be the perfect memory.
Parenting in the Pinterest Age
I have a love/hate relationship with Pinterest.
I love it as a way to catalog my myriad of recipes and other random tidbits I find online.
I hate that every time I browse it, I’m reminded of my inferiority as a parent.
I’ve never made homemade play-doh, edible or otherwise.
The amount of hand print art we’ve created has dropped steeply since my first child’s first month of life.
We’ve been in our current home almost a year and we have almost no decor on the walls at all, let alone adorable themed bedrooms for the children.
One of the things I really despise the most is the notion that every moment I spend with my children should somehow be amazingly special.
That I should never be doing anything that doesn’t make life glittery and unicorn-filled for my kids.
I believe it’s related to the phenomenon “Fear of Missing Out,” of which I am sometimes also a victim. I call it “Fear of Mediocre Memories.” (FOMM?)
FOMM is the fear that your children will look back on their childhoods and see nothing but memories of mediocrity. When they should have been remembering three hour walks through fields of sunflowers, they were remembering you writing emails while they had nothing but old coloring books as company. When they should have been doing DIY science projects and making paper plate dinosaurs, they remember playing alone while you had an online meeting.
While these fears are real and are scary, they are unjustified. The fact that we have them means we know that parenting and working can’t be an all-or-nothing venture.
As parents, and I think particularly as working parents, since we seem to be subject to more feelings of guilt about things we’re “missing out on” with our children*, there is a lot of pressure to make our children’s lives special and magical and beautiful and… anything but mediocre.
*Stay-at-home parents are subject to their own flavors of guilt, but that’s another article entirely. Parenting is guilty work, man.
Our amazing, special progeny should never know what it’s like to be bored. They should never have their tiny voices silenced by taking business phone calls. We should drop work at any moment to go on nature hikes and wildlife adventures. Housework and cleaning and deadlines and bills should always take a back seat to games of Hide and Seek and reading that book about doggies for the eleventy-billionth time…
Can we just be real for a second here?
First, kids are exhausting. They have seemingly endless amounts of energy. Even if you never had to do anything except play with your kids, I guarantee you, you couldn’t keep up. So let’s just stop pretending it’s just these “adulty” things we need to do that stop us, okay?
Second, what is the problem with having things to do anyway? We have to work. We have to make a living. We have to make meals and scrub toilets and do laundry.
Even if those things are all done, we still sometimes need a damn break. To poop without hands under the door or unsolicited questions about our genitals. To have a glass of wine and read an article, even if it’s just a mindless clickbait article on Facebook. To take a deep breath and just listen to silence.
We’re barraged with Pinterest pins and blog articles and memes and quotes about making more time for our children. We need to cherish “these times before they’re over.” We’ll regret making these choices to work once they’re grown.
As my own vibrant childhood memory shows, you don’t have to make every moment you spend with your kids special.
Working hard, being present, doing what you need to do is enough.
YOU are enough.
If you need to throw a bucket of Legos at them so you can take a conference call, the kids will be fine.
If you need to send them outside with a sprinkler and a popsicle so that you can write an article, they’ll be fine.
If you need to get a nanny or a daycare slot so that you can go home and take a nap instead of going to that meeting, they’ll still be fine.
Likely, they’ll only remember the fun, even if you were really just trying to get by.