The oldest of my children is 17, and the youngest is almost 9. Although I still have a ways to go, I feel I can say I’m an “experienced” mom. I’ve been around the little kid parenting block more times than I can count. I’ve seen it all in one way or another, and have the gray hair and wrinkles to prove it.
I also have a secret to share with young mothers: Most moms sharing their wisdom at my stage or beyond are largely full of it. It’s not that we’re deliberately attempting to mislead you — we’re simply suffering from momnesia.
When I recall my oldest daughter’s babyhood, I see images of a delightfully precocious little darling. Not the greatest sleeper in the world, but other than that, an easy baby. As a toddler, I’d sit her down with a basket of board books, and she’d be happily occupied for an hour. When people ask what she was like when she was little, I always describe her as good-natured, compliant, and calm.
But apparently she wasn’t. At least not as often as I thought she was.
I recently found a journal of my thoughts during her first few years, and I was surprised to come across this sentence: This kid is the most strong-willed child I’ve ever met.
Perhaps my little angel had a bit of the devil in her after all.
Reading further, I discovered that my memories of my daughter’s first few years are shakier than I thought. Yes, she 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 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’d also forgotten exactly how annoying, frustrating, and maddening those details were at the time.
I had developed momnesia — an inability to recall the unpleasant specifics of my mothering journey.
We all know that motherhood scrambles our brains. 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 700th question of the day, trying to get the Wild Kratts theme song out of our heads, or figuring out how we’re going to afford our kid’s newfound obsession with soccer. So we forget a lot of things, short-term and long-term.
We also have a tendency to block out the ugly experiences with our kids. I imagine it’s some kind of biological protection mechanism to keep us from offing our offspring.
Momnesia gets worse the more kids you have, by the way. 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 children were mostly sweet angels during their early years.
This is why I often question 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. Sure, there may be a few things some kids don’t do, simply by luck of the draw. For example, my kids have never yet told me they hated me, even though that seems to be a fairly normal thing for many kids. (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 recollections of when our kids were young.
Some moms will try to deny the momnesia phenomenon, 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 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 great sounding boards. But if we start to tell you that our kids never did X, Y, or Z, don’t panic and think something is wrong with your kid or your parenting. Just nod along with us and remember that we that we probably have momnesia — because we sure as heck won’t.