When I look back on my 15-year-old’s early years, I remember her as a delightfully precocious little darling. Not the greatest sleeper in the world maybe, but other than that, a generally easy baby. As a toddler, I could sit her down with a basket of board books, and she’d look through them one by one. When people ask what she was like when she was little, I always describe her as good-natured, compliant, and calm.
Only, apparently she wasn’t. At least not as a rule.
One day, while reading through a journal I kept of my thoughts during her first few years (ah, those first children get all the perks), I came across this sentence: This kid is the most strong-willed child I’ve ever met. Huh. How about that. Perhaps my little angel had a bit of the devil in her after all.
Reading further, I discovered that my memory of my daughter’s first few years was shakier than I thought. Yes, our girly could be good-natured, compliant, and calm. But she could also throw fits, be a way worse sleeper than “not the greatest,” and flat-out refuse to cooperate. Glimpses of memories started to emerge—her refusal to stay still during diaper changes, the month or two where she would screech for no apparent reason whenever we were out in public, the bleary-eyed sleep-deprived days when I seriously wondered if people could survive never sleeping longer than two hours at a time.
I’d forgotten those unpleasant details. Of course, I always remembered some vague difficulties—most of them sleep-related—but I’d obviously blocked out the specific annoying, frustrating, maddening details of the baby and toddler years. I had developed momnesia—an inability to recall specific events in my mothering journey.
We all know that motherhood does a number on the brain. Over time, our brain cells that would normally go toward storing long-term memories get used up for things like trying to answer a 4-year-old’s 627th question of the day, or trying to figure out how to get the Wild Kratts theme song out of our heads, or trying to figure out how we’re going to afford our kids’ extracurricular activities. So we forget a lot of things, short-term and long-term.
And naturally, momnesia gets worse the more kids you have. The early days of newborn neediness and toddler tantrums all sort of blend together in a vague cloud of “Oh sure, the early years can be hard.” The only reason I recall as much as I do is because I wrote so much down. If I hadn’t, I’m sure I’d remain adamant that my first child was an angel.
That’s why I’ve often questioned the legitimacy of older parents’ claims that their children never did X, Y, Z. My children never had tantrums. My children never came into our room at night. My children never begged for things at the store. My children never whined.
Sorry, but I call bs. Yes, there may be occasional things that most kids do that a few kids don’t, simply by luck of the draw. For example, I’ve never been able to relate to memes about kids saying, “I hate you!” to their parents because our kids have never done that. (Yes, I know for sure. I would have written it down.) But for the most part, we moms of older kids can’t be trusted in our recollection of when our kids were young. Some moms will deny it, but this is a mountain I’m willing to die on.
Just as women lose memory of the most excruciating moments of childbirth, most moms forget the nitty-gritty details of the early years of parenting. We look at the those years of new motherhood through rose-colored glasses, even if we think we’re seeing it clearly. We insist that we remember the tough times, but we don’t really remember them. We don’t experience those memories in full detail. Not like the mom who is just coming out of the nursing, holding, toddling, diapering, crying, whining, not sleeping phase remembers them. Not like the mom who is deep in the throes of it all.
So take our advice and experience with a grain of salt, new moms. We may have some words of wisdom to offer, and older moms can sometimes be the best sounding boards. But if we start to tell you that our kids didn’t exhibit certain behaviors or that our kids never did X, Y, or Z, don’t panic and think your kid is the oddball. Just nod along and remember that we that we probably have momnesia—because we sure as heck won’t.