The short term memory of parenthood

human brain diagramThe one post of mine that still receives the most comments and emails all these years later takes on sleep training. My standard answer to those poor, desperate new moms is that I’m the last person that anyone should ever ask advice about getting one’s children to sleep. I’ve got 1467 consecutive sleepless nights to prove it. More or less.

Then again, not too long ago, I was the mom of a two year-old who was wondering if my friend’s 18 month-old needed a blankey on the ground for tummy time when they came to visit.

I know that as parents we are victims of some strange affliction which causes our children to always seem to have been the very age they are now. With the vocabulary they have now, and the athletic ability, and the emotional intelligence and you know, the haircuts. I look back at photos of my girls only six months ago and it’s hard to imagine that such an age even occurred. It almost seems like my brain simply has no capacity to take on new information, new coping mechanisms, new crisis management skills without letting go of the old ones.

I can take on the mean girl issues, but only because I’ve more or less forgotten at what age a baby starts walking. Seriously, you could brag to me that your kid started walking at 22 months and I’d be like, prodigy!

These days I can talk Sage through the complexities of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy in language she can understand, but if you ask me what her first words were I would have to run to my blog and hope that I wrote them down somewhere.

Whatever I seem to be handling reasonably well right now,  don’t even think about asking me about whether preschoolers are reading, or when a baby starts getting her teeth, or the difference between your sixth and seventh month of pregnancy.

Crap, see? I said sixth or seventh month. Every mother knows that pregnant women think about pregnancy in terms of weeks and totally roll our eyes at anyone who asks us what month we are because the answer is 38 1/2 weeks and don’t make me do more math than that, thanks.

Is it Mom-nesia? Mom-entia? Mom-ory loss?

Some other really bad mom pun that someone has probably already trademarked and turned into the title of a failed web series pitch?

Whatever it is, I’ve got it. I hope I’m not alone here.

Last night on Twitter, someone I don’t know asked my advice about what age one should put cereal in a nighttime baby bottle and all I could say was I’m so sorry–but I don’t even know what you’re talking about.


33 thoughts on “The short term memory of parenthood”

  1. I find this one of the most heartbreaking things about parenthood, someone keeps erasing the tape even as it is still supposed to be recording. It must be nature’s way of keeping us in the moment with our kids, fully focused on where they are at that instant, rather than pining for an earlier time.

  2. I totally get this. A few months ago my sister came to visit with her toddler and while I acted cool and nonchalant when she left the two of us alone together for an evening, I couldn’t remember ANYTHING. It was like I had never had toddlers.

  3. a neighbor who recently had a baby asked me if I had any tips for her and I just said “I think you’re supposed to treasure every second but I’m not sure”. Seriously, who can remember that stuff?

    1. Maybe we need to rephrase it. Like, “enjoy every second because you won’t remember it after it’s gone. In which case it almost doesn’t remember that you enjoyed it, but do it anyway.”

      Catchy, right?

  4. I can remember when my daughter was tiny, holding her on my shoulder after a middle of the night feeding and trying to commit the feel of her tiny body to memory because I know when sure turns 13 I’m going to need that. Except that memory has been replaced by the way her 6 month old body feels. I look at pictures of her just a few days old and I can’t really remember the specifics. That makes me so sad.

    1. And now that’s been replaced by what it feels to hoist the dead weight of a sleeping 7 year old up a bunk bed. This is really where I’m so glad I have a blog.

  5. I’m right there with you. My youngest is just shy of two, which doesn’t seem like it should feel as far away from infant as it does. My sister-in-law had a baby in December. She keeps asking me questions and too often I have to say, “I’m sorry, I just don’t remember.” My old journals feel so oddly distant.

  6. I just accidentally discovered that today is my 5 year blog anniversary. I barely remember those days. I’m grateful that I can look back, whether the post brings back a memory or merely becomes a story to review. At least I have those. I need to videotape (what an outdated word) my boys more often just so I can remember their little boy voices. With one at almost 12, there won’t be much more time. Unfortunately I can’t bottle the smell of their still-sometimes-sweet heads.

  7. My parents “discovered” G+ and, naturally, I spent good chunk of my weekend uploading to picasa. While in process of figuring out what pics are filed where, I came across the pic of my first born sleeping sort-of-upright on my shoulder, and I had instant flash back: waking every 45 minutes, only sleeping position for him being hoisted on my shoulder and my convoluted movements to get myself at least seated. All of that evaporated from my mind until I saw the picture. But that was one picture, one small snapshot, and millions and millions of other events (and related knowledge) as completely gone from my mind. Now I’m lamenting every time I did not have the camera, or did not deem the occasion *important* enough to even pull up the camera. I know, smartphones now fill in the gap, but even with those, I know I’m missing too many of the moments. I have to remind myself it is not about *good* pictures, it is about mementos that are precious. So we can look back at them in awe and build our own “Little House On the Prairie”.

    I don’t think it is reserved for kid’s moments alone – all memories we have are slowly yellowing and fading like old photographs, and only good, big ones are kept around and circulated. Unless they are of the “Let’s Pretend It Never Happened” variety. Those hang around forever.

    1. I think it’s a hard balance – to live in the moment, but then, not to lose the memory either.

      Yes, memories fade. But for some reason my knowledge is evaporating too. It’s like, “I used to speak New Mom…”

      1. It’s just like languages or college classes or anything else…if you don’t use it you lose it. If I talked New Mom all the time, I’d still remember. But I don’t…I speak 8 and 6 years old. Heck my husband and I can’t even remember to when our eldest was the youngest’s age…how many sight words did she know, how many friends and what presents did she get for her birthday. It’s all so fleeting. Write it all down and record as much as you can with videos and photos. It’s the only way

  8. Erasing the tape. Love that. I can’t remember a thing, such as when and where my firstborn lost his first tooth. No recollection whatsoever. Right now, I’m in the middle of a full blown panic over the fact that he’s in sixth grade, and I only have him with me for six more years. That’s nothing. I’m hysterical.

    1. Unless he doesn’t move out and lives in your basement and watches Star Whatever! You’re welcome!

  9. this is so hard for me. my oldest is only just about to turn 3, and i already look at pictures and videos of him from when he was a baby and realize i just can’t remember him being like that. when he sees those videos he refers to himself in the 3rd person, like ‘i want to see the video of oscar eating macaroni and cheese.’ like it’s not the same person as him, which is exactly how i feel, too. i also have a 5 month old, and am constantly trying to remember what his brother was doing at x age (whatever age the baby is at that point in time), and it’s just gone.

    the hardest part, though, is knowing that this memory loss is occurring all the time, wanting to document each and every part of my kids’ growing up process so that i can go back and watch later, but knowing that if i’m constantly looking at them through a viewfinder i’ll be missing out on experiencing them NOW. gah…i just need to find a ‘life videographer’ to capture this stuff without us ever knowing they’re there, organize it all, and charge nothing. obviously.

  10. I find it absolutely shocking how much we can forget. If I didn’t have bits and pieces all written down somewhere it would all be gone by now.

    But on the plus side, it does remind me that whatever parenting crisis I’m in at the moment will pass. Tummy time used to seem very important, and now it makes no difference at all, so whatever I’m freaking out about this week will also fade into obscurity, and that’s a relief.

  11. I always think the immediacy of parenthood is both a gift and a curse. Every day is so FULL and so NOW. I LOVE where my kids are at now. That’s good, right? When we are fully immersed in the present? And yet whenever I look at pix of my kids’ younger years (and months) I get this tinge of sadness…not because I wish they were that age again, but because i can’t remember what it felt like when they were that age.

  12. I often refer to this parenting amnesia as an evolutionary plus for our species. Without it, few people would have more than one child.

    My wife gives a bit of related advice whenever the circumstance calls for it: when it comes to sleep issues, never take parenting advice from someone that hasn’t had an infant in the last year or two. And that is probably pushing it.

    With our first I kept a daily log, and to this day it reminds me that my memory of how things happened, and exactly when they happened, is almost always wrong. Wrote about it here:

    1. I think it’s the inability to remember searing pain that allows us to have more than one child.

  13. I decided a long time ago that it had to be survival instinct was directly linked to Mom-nesia. Within a year of having what I know was 14 hours of horrible labor with my daughter, I could barely remember what a contraction really even felt like. If I had, I doubt I would have ever agreed to have a second kid.

    I have to admit, I laugh an evil laugh in secret at my friends who still have infants and are doing 2 am feedings. It’s a distant memory, but I still enjoy the “better you than me”.

  14. These days I can’t even remember last week, much less what my daughter did at one! It’s so unfortunate, but our memories really do become a big blob of fog…

  15. This was all so true…I was at the dermatologist’s office with my 15-year old son recently and she wanted to prescribe some medication for him and asked me how much he weighed…I used to know my 3 kids’ weights to the very ounce…now, forget it! Luckily, my son knew how much he weighed because I know the number I would have said was not even close.

    1. This is so sad…but to remember my daughters’ height we went to the Hershey Park website and they reminded me which “candy” icon represented their height for the rides.

  16. I remember the nurse at the hospital pre-birth class (see, this was before I was a mom so I can remember it) said that once you give birth, before you leave the hospital they give you a shot of “forgetteron” so that you’re willing to come back and do this all again in a couple of years. (I guess I got out of there under the radar without my shot because I outsmarted them and only had one kid – 7 years later and no desire for another!)

    I, too, cannot tell a new mom at what age the baby should crawl or for that matter, when my son began crawling or got his first tooth. It’s all I can do to remember whether I fed him dinner last night sometimes. I know you’re supposed to cherish every moment because they’re fleeting but now I’m thinking that it doesn’t matter if I cherished them since I don’t remember most of them anyway – I’ll just rewrite history and figure that sure, I cherished them all. Every last sleepless night and vomit stain. Who’s to tell me different?

  17. I’ve been saying all year how fun age 2 is with my youngest. I truly don’t remember her sisters being this fun at this age. But then again, when they were 2, she was born, and who would be able to remember their first name when dealing with 2 year old twins and an infant?

  18. Our next door neighbor’s daughter had just turned 13 when we had Girl Child. She was the first person we trusted with our infant outside of family.

    She is now married and 13 weeks pregnant with her first child. Time is relentless.

  19. That’s why I get crazy when I hear older people (like me) tell mothers and fathers (like you and yours) to “appreciate every minute of your child’s life.” What are they talking about? How can you “appreciate” something you are living through? Does it mean to remain in a perpetual state of awe? To keep a prayer of thanks on your lips? To surround yourself with sparks of white light? Your post is a perfect response to the reality of living a full life. Not possible to truly ‘appreciate’ anything. That’s why we read blogs like yours. And history books.

  20. The mom-nesia was really driven home for me when my 2nd kid was born. He’s 4.5 now, but I’ve spent most of his life thinking, “Oh, yeah, I’d forgotten that kids did that.” It’s all new, all the time, because I just moved on with my 1st and didn’t have space in my brain to remember all that stuff I used to know.

Comments are closed.