Parents are People


As a kid, I went to a YMCA day camp on the north shore of Boston that was located on an island. Every morning, the campers took a boat from the dock to camp and every afternoon, we returned by boat to our awaiting parents. It was one of those things that was far better in theory than actuality, as the camp was pretty poorly run and kind of a dump. Well it was every day, except for the visiting days when the parents got to see it and remind us 57,932 times just how lucky we were to go to camp there. Which we were… in theory.

The highlight of that camp were the days that were too rainy to take a boat out so they were spent at the Y, watching movies, listening to tapes and making macramé bracelets. That was the kind of summer camp I could get on board with. No swimming, no races, no dodge ball, no poison ivy… sign me up!

One of those days, in between braiding hair and licking orange cheese puff cheese off of our fingers, we listened to the Free to Be You and Me soundtrack to pass the time. There, on the floor of the community room listening to Marlo Thomas belt out Parents Are People, my life forever changed. “Parents are people,” she sang. “People with children. When parents were little they used to be small, like some of you. And then they grew.” Hold the (corded) phone, I remember thinking. My parents are people? My parents, the folks whom I sincerely thought were put on this earth for no reason other than to produce my brother and I, were… people? People?!

It was an epiphany of earth shattering proportions.

Until that moment, I thought of my parents solely as my mother and father and it simply never dawned on me that they had a life or existence outside of my brother and me. I mean, I suppose I was aware that they grew up in different places and met in school and eventually got married and had us, but I never spent any time reflecting on what that meant. To me, they were just my parents who knew everything and made only the wisest choices. For me.

I don’t ever recall seeing my mom flustered or overwhelmed. I can count on one hand the number of times I heard my father really yell and the single time I heard my mom utter the word “fuck” is forever burned in my brain. They could shoot a single look, which would snap my brother and I into instant obedience—one that I would pay a million dollars to possess now, as a parent. Back then, my mom and dad had all of the answers to every question I asked, and guiding us just seemed effortless.

As an adult, I know that my parents didn’t have all the answers or do everything the right way, but they did fake it really well. Or, at least well enough to fool me as a child. I never once questioned that they knew what they were doing or had any doubts themselves. Maybe that’s the key to parenthood: Pretend you know what the hell you’re doing until your kids know better than to believe it.

Unlike me, my children will never have the luxury of thinking that I’m anything other than a completely flawed human being. I raise my voice more often than I’d like to admit and my kids don’t flinch when they hear a curse word pass my lips because it’s simply not all that rare of an occurrence. They’ve seen me cry out of frustration and witnessed me slam the door in an effort to scare them into listening to me. They’ve seen me stressed out and sad and confused and angry. They’ve heard me answer with an “I don’t know” when I truly just don’t. For better or worse, they know me exactly for who I am: Just a  person, who is lucky enough to be their mother, and who loves them more than anything.

Some days, I think that’s all they really need to know.


  1. 1

    Cindy S says

    Loved this post. Beautiful and introspective and holiday-perfect.

    Well, except for the fact that I was TOTALLY fired up to send Big Brother (who just turned 7) to camp on Children’s next year and now you have me thinking it’s going to be a dump.

  2. 2

    Alison@Mama Wants This says

    My son is only 2 and I’m already terrible at faking it. I guess he’ll just have to see and know me as, well, me. :)

    • 3

      Callie says

      Same here! My little guy has already seen at least one meltdown not of his own. But he still seems to love me…or at least he’s good at faking it. ;-)

    • 4

      1 Bad Mom says

      I can’t do it, and I also say “I don’t know” when I actually don’t know. I hated that my dad would claim to know everything, which actually messed me up something fierce. lol I’d rather my kids know that you don’t have all the answers as an adult.

  3. 5

    Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes says

    I don’t manage to fake it often, but when I do, I deserve an Oscar made out of chocolate.

  4. 6

    Vinobaby says

    My parents were cut from the same cloth as yours. They seemed to keep me in line with minimal effort. I still to this day have never seen them even disagree in front of me. It wasn’t until I was 14 and asked to prom that I drove my mother to tears (and that was a brief and singular outburst).

    And I flunked all of these things by the time my kid was one. How did they possess such control, both over their emotions and over us? Is it our whole generation that is lacking in their ability to fake it and keep their cool at all costs?

    You are certainly not alone. Maybe they should offer parents acting lessons in Lamaze classes?

  5. 8

    Carrie says

    Aww…this is great.

    It was several years after I had “grown up” that I realized my parents were real people, too.

    Like so many others, I juggle one bill to pay another, I rob Peter to pay Paul and well, I just do what I have to do to make ends meet. And fortunately for me, they always meet.

    However, I’m not responsible for 3 girls. And my own business. And 4 car notes. And a mortgage. And on and on and on.

    So having all that…I’m sure mom and dad had to do some juggling and robbing, too. Us girls just never saw it. All we saw were two people who gave us everything they could.

    With no 401(k) and with no big, fat inheritance from a long, lost relative. I don’t know how they did it…but they did.

  6. 9

    Rebeccah says

    This is very sweet and so true! My children like for me to tell them stories about what my husband and I used to do before they were born, like travel and oh, have more than five cents in our pockets. They are amazed that we are people with feelings and USED to have a life! But they also know that we still came out ahead in the trade-off. :-)

  7. 10

    Arnebya says

    It’s amazing that so many of us can pinpoint the time of realization that our parents are people. My parents divorced early. It was then that I knew they were separate beings with actual lives and thoughts and everything wasn’t about me. Before then, yeah, I hadn’t thought much to them being them before I existed.

    My kids have definitely been told and have seen that we exist outside of them, that we still occasionally go out, get flustered, don’t know it all, burn the chicken, start browning the meat for spaghetti w/out actually checking that we have the damn pasta. I wish I could have prolonged their realizing I don’t know it all. But once they hit 4th grade and asked for help with the maths, the jig was up.

  8. 11

    Megan says

    I think the sooner we all realize our parents don’t have all the answers the better off we can be. I was 12 and went so far as to move in with my grandparents who seemed to have them all. For me it was the best choice at the time, but I think looking back that it hurt my mother terribly. She hid her pain well though. We never knew. At least not until we were older. I try to be honest with them, much like your style, and I hope that they see that as a wonderful thing, not a flaw. Shelter and protect, but never hide who you are. Thank you for the post, it lets me know that I’m not as alone as I sometimes feel.

  9. 12

    Julia's Child / Sarah P. says

    Interesting! So… what do you think your parents would say? Is it possible that children because of their very nature feel the same as you did as a child, and will remember their experience with you the same way you remember your own relationship with their parents? Could it be that the fundamental differences between your parenting and theirs are smaller than you believe?
    God, I hope so! Because your daily doubts sound a lot like mine.

  10. 13

    Rachel {at} Mommy Needs a Vacation says

    This is great. I’m a huge flawed mess for my kids too…raise my voice and respond with “I don’t know.” All of the time!

  11. 15

    Mrs Dzo says

    GREAT post. It’s weird how perfect parents seemed and what a hot mess I appear to be. Will my kid know? Maybe, maybe not.

    It always feels like everyone is great at faking it and I stick out like a sore thumb with a big “Parenting Don’t” stamped on my forehead, but maybe more people feel like me than I think…

  12. 16

    Mandy says

    “They could shoot a single look, which would snap my brother and I into instant obedience—one that I would pay a million dollars to possess now, as a parent.” Oh how i love this! and remember the “look” my father would throw – it would probably still scare me… lmfao!

  13. 17

    molly says

    I don’t remember my mom getting upset that often. In fact, I remember her as perfect, which is upsetting to me when I feel like I mess up so much as a parent. Now I realize that she went through the worst time of her life while raising four young children. Her dying mother (my grandma) was living with us and had a 6-year battle with cancer. The only thing I remember was seeing tears on my mom’s face one time when she was vacuuming. But that was it. Her mother died of breast cancer and that was all I saw.

    I know I hold myself to way too high of standards. We’re human. We break down. I think it’s good for our kids to see some emotion. They need to know that this parenting thing is hard work.

  14. 18

    Crystal says

    I can really relate to this post. You voiced it so well! I didn’t know my parents were flawed people, too, until I was an adult and knew better. And yes…my kids too have seen me at my worst…but I think that’s ok. I’m not perfect, and I hope they don’t want me to be. Great post!!

  15. 19

    Hollywood Farm says

    Oh my goodness! I just bought the Free To Be You And Me vinyl and totally had a flash back!

    WE ARE SOO OLD!! My kids were very unimpressed!

  16. 20

    Jennifer says

    And this is exactly why I named my blog what I did. I have no idea how my mom did all she did, but I know that I can never make it look that easy. My daughter has even said, “being a mom is hard isn’t it.” So I may not look perfect, but at least I look real.

    And the cussing? Every time I say ass one of the kids will look at me and say, “Mom… you know ass is a bad word. You really should stop saying it.”

  17. 21

    Heather says

    I absolutely remember having an Oprah “aha moment” when my daughter was a baby and I realized the biggest part of being a parent is just GUESSING. Guessing what your child needs. Guessing what the right thing to do is. As a child you assume your parents just KNOW exactly what they’re doing… but now I know they were only guessing. And probably still are.

  18. 22

    Merrie says

    You just enlightened me to the fact that my children truly know me, the person, not just the “mom”. when they were little pretending I was without flaws was easier and really didn’t matter that much during the completely egoccentric phases of childhood they were experiencing. Now that are are older and are able to relate to adulthood in many ways I realize how valuable it is for them to learn that other adults and their parents are not perfect, we are works in progress, just like our children are . We learn to respect eachother and co-mingle in the same space and learn from eachother, Just like they will do someday with their own children and every other person they will encounter in life. very valuable, I think.

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