In Defense of Magical Mothering

I simply MUST respond to a recent article on Huffington Post by Bunmi Laditan, author of the book The Honest Toddler; A Child’s Guide to Parenting  titled “I’m done making my kids’ childhood magical

I think the main point of this article is that we shouldn’t stress ourselves out to create memories with our kids because we don’t know WHAT they’re likely to remember and because kids enjoy life anyway. As she says, “Seeing the world through innocent eyes is magical.” And “magical” here isn’t a reference to any woowoo spirituality. It’s just referring to the way kids see things. “It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis.”

That much, I can agree with.

But I think she misinterprets the motivation behind some of the things that some of us do as parents. I don’t know a single mom who begrudgingly decides to throw an elaborate themed birthday party or who forces herself to spend time crafting with her kids. I think the author’s own mother’s hands-off approach to parenting tells us more about where this article comes from than anything else.

See, some of us actually LOVE spending time with our kids.  I never feel quite so close with my kids as I do when we’re engaged in an activity. Whether we’re sitting on the floor doing a puzzle, cooking from a recipe we found on Pinterest, making magazine collages to display on our wall (which might end up on my Facebook wall too) or organizing the toys in their bedroom.

I don’t do these things because I want to alter their memories of their childhood.  Who the hell would work that hard to control an immeasurable variable? I don’t remember most of my OWN childhood, that’s what my sister is for.  I fully trust and believe that my kids and I will have different memories of these experiences and that it will be a source of laughter many years from now.  I have a VERY distinctive memory from my childhood that’s apparently not true. But I’m keeping it because it’s awesome.

In my memory, my mom and her friends all dressed up in formalwear to throw a wedding party for Luke and Laura’s wedding on General Hospital.  My sister and I dressed up too and there was a buffet table and presents and it was the coolest thing ever.

The reality, apparently, was that we were at a wedding and after the festivities, several people gathered to watch the wedding on TV.  It was a coincidence. But not in my mind. I’ll always remember watching the wedding on TV and being surrounded by wedding decorations and people dressed up in their fanciest dresses. Who cares what the actual truth is? My contrived memory is so much better.

I take tons of pictures of my kids, although not as many as I want to.  My desire to take more photos isn’t driven by the desire to alter their memories either. I’m pretty sure that I’d rather them remember me without the camera on my neck. I take photos so I CAN REMEMBER.  Kids grow so quickly.  I don’t share photos on Facebook or Flickr because I want the other moms in my circle to feel bad for not being as awesome as I am. Who would do that?

My friends inspire me on a daily basis and parenting is NOT a contest. The kids and their damned free will would ruin that contest anyway.  I share photos because I’m too lazy to mail them to friends and family.  I share photos because it’s easier than calling my parents to tell them what the kids and I have done today.  I share photos because photo sharing websites index them by date and I can scroll back through my feed to relive the memories.  I don’t even share them with my kids because I take them for ME.

Honestly. I don’t give a crap if they remember that I mixed 15 colors of frosting for the Christmas cookies. I didn’t do it for them.  I did it for me.  I want to enjoy motherhood and I like decorating cookies. It’s a no-brainer.  If I didn’t let them in on the decorating then I’d have to shoo them away (much like the author claims her mother did)  What fun is there in pursuing my passions while the kids are growing up somewhere else?  I wouldn’t force my kids to decorate cookies if they didn’t want to. We’re sharing an activity we both enjoy. There’s nothing wrong with that.

“Manufacturing contrived memories” isn’t a very logical statement because we have absolutely no control over what our kids will remember. True, we may be manufacturing a moment but when are humans NOT engineering their own experiences?  Um…. never.

You can plan an elaborate party because you’re trying to keep up with the neighbors, because your kid is demanding it, because you feel bad if you don’t OR because planning elaborate parties is FUN.

When I decorate my house in a fun way or plan a “magical” moment for my kids, make no mistake about it, it’s for ME. Mostly because I decided that it would be a fun thing to do. But also because I want to own that moment. I want them to look back and think “Damn, mom you ROCK.” I want them to learn about me through a history of my deeds and not discover that I was secretly awesome and forgot to share that with them.

Watching them enjoy those moments that come as a result of me expressing my skills and talents and passions is MY MAGIC MOMENT. When you’re raising kids and not out there in the workforce engaged in “meaningful employment” and making a positive impact in the world, your kids ARE YOUR CAUSE. I want to do my best because they matter to me. I’d never go to the extremes that some people do (12 tier birthday cake, edited video of their life, handmade wallpaper, elaborate holiday rituals) but then again they’d probably never go to MY extreme (driving to another state to participate in an alternative school program). The extremes reflect the mom’s values and talents so they’re not BAD. We’re all a little extreme sometimes.

I can’t decide which version of the previous paragraph is most accurate, so I’m going to repeat it, just a little differently.

Watching them enjoy those moments that come as a result of me expressing my skills and talents and passions is MY MAGIC MOMENT. My kids benefit from hanging out with an adult (me) by learning to be responsible and mature through my example.  I benefit from hanging out with my kids by learning to see the world through a lens of newness and wonder.  My kid isn’t attempting to alter my perception of adulthood when she reads me a story she has written and I’m not attempting to alter her perception of childhood when I publish a book of the bedtime stories I invent on the fly.  We’re just people living together, learning from each other and aging. 

The author says: “A childhood without Pinterest crafts can be magical. A childhood without a single vacation can be magical. The magic we speak of and so desperately want our children to taste isn’t of our creation, and therefore is not ours to dole out as we please. It is discovered in quiet moments by a brook or under the slide at the park, and in the innocent laughter of a life just beginning.”

Sweet. And I imagine some insecure moms are right now adding “go to brook” and “tell my kid to sit under the slide” and “make faces at babies” to their calendars.  NOT. Because people don’t do that.

Childhood feels magical. It’s a fact. And the little extraordinary things we do as parents might be self-serving. Kids won’t remember things exactly as we do. And that’s OK. They will remember that we loved life, that we cared about them and that we shared the world with them.

Her article is a good discussion point but I don’t think it tells the entire story. A more appropriate title would be “How my mom taught me to disengage and be dismissive and why you should do it, too.”


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