Changing Perspective :: How My Interview with a Teenager Resolved My Parenting Failures

Parenting is a matter of perspective.

In 2005, I got married and gave birth to my first child. In my perspective, our new life was filled with excitement and joy. I was a new wife and a new mom, and it seemed like the picture-perfect start to a new chapter in my life. I had been preparing my entire life for my own little family — a husband to provide for us and children to nurture and develop into amazing adults.

I had always wanted children and was working with children already in a retail toy store — so clearly I was an expert. Oh, did I mention I turned 21 in 2005? And clearly had no idea WHAT I was getting myself into?

By 2006, I was convinced I wasn’t cut out for married life or being a mom, but oops — I was already pregnant with boy #2. A year later, still having less than no clue what I was doing with an 18-month-old boy and a 3-month-old boy, I found out I was having another BOY! (Remember, patience isn’t my virtue!)

You read that right, friends. Three boys under 3.

When my third son was born, my other boys were 12 months and 30 months old.  My perspective went from me thinking I had this in the bag to literally just trying to survive. I distinctly remember my oldest sitting next to me on the couch playing with a toy while I rocked my 12-month-old’s pack and play with my foot, my newborn in my lap as I fed him and had my computer open writing a paper. (Did I mention that I thought this was a good time to go back to school?)

At that moment, I cried.

I had an entry-level job and was trying to get a degree to further provide for my family, but it was taking my attention away from my family. My husband worked the opposite shift, so we were never together. The presents under our tree each Christmas paled in comparison to those my friends and family shared. (Which is why I have vowed to NEVER share pictures of my tree after Santa comes.) We were barely able to pay our bills. 

I felt like a failure.

I share this because I am now in a unique position to share my experiences and compare them to my oldest son’s experiences. So, I interviewed him to find out if he found his childhood to be the epic failure I saw it as (and still do). I asked Darius (almost 16 now) to share his thoughts about his childhood. I was prepared for his answers to be critical of me. I instead, got a lesson in perspective.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Darius: Watching Treehouse Masters and wrestling with you and Daddy and my brothers.  And having movie nights all together. We were always together.

What is your worst childhood memory?

Darius: When you made me go on the log flume. (Author’s note: I did, in fact, force him on the ride. He’s never been on a coaster since.)

What did I do well as your mom?

Darius: Not to brag or anything, but I am a good person with a good set of morals, so you raised me right. You kinda spoiled me and also made sure I had the right morals. You made sure I didn’t do any of the dumb stuff I wanted to do. Like, the kid next door used to brag about being able to stay up until midnight and I thought that was cool. But now I am glad you didn’t let us because that isn’t healthy.

What did I do not so well?

Darius: Made me go on a log flume ride. I think that’s pretty much it.

How do you feel about your childhood from your perspective?

Darius: I’d say it was pretty good. Definitely a lot better than most other people’s childhoods. Although I don’t have a good sample size to compare that with. We did good with what we were given, like when we didn’t have good neighbors and lived in a small apartment. But we had a good yard and had fun. You let us play all the time, even though you had to give electronics a curfew. Other than that, I had a really good childhood.

When you are a parent, how will your parenting style be different than mine?

I would parent them basically the same.

Turns out, parents are much harder on themselves than their children will ever know.

I had felt so much guilt for our financial situation. But he actually noted he felt we spoiled him! He doesn’t remember all he lacked growing up but remembers how much we did for him. It’s all a matter of perspective.

So, when you are feeling like you have especially failed as a parent or are worried about a decision you have made, think about how your children would answer these questions. Ask your older children and keep the answers somewhere so you can look back at them. Save the questions for when your younger children are old enough to answer. Answer them about your own childhood and get your parents’ perspectives.

Because changing perspective can be the difference between the failure of a parent and the success of a child.

Michelle is a lifelong New Englander, living in Stoneham and working in Charlestown.  She is a preschool and toddler teacher at a small private preschool.  She holds a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education, which has come in useful at both work and home.  She has a supportive stay-at-home-dad for a husband, and is a mom of five children.  She has three boys in Middle and High School as well as two girls in Elementary School.  She teaches Infant and Toddler classes for Early Ed teachers, runs workshops for parents through Boston Naps, and runs her own business, The Parenting Survival Expert, offering parenting tips and support.  In her spare time, she can be found reading a murder mystery novel, sipping far too much coffee and dreaming of a home in the mountains.