When the world sees our children, it sees them as they are at this moment and in this environment, through a narrow lens. Their teacher at school sees how well they internalized today’s math lesson (or not). Their dentist sees the condition of their teeth as they are today, including that new cavity in a molar. The neighbor sees them as the sweet child who brought in their garbage can for them or the nasty brat who littered in their front lawn.
At any given time, our children are assigned identities based on their current performance in one of many areas of their life. But mothers and fathers observe their children with a very different set of eyes. When parents look at their children, they don’t just see them as they are in that moment. They see all the ages they’ve ever been, as well as imagining the ages they will be in the future.
When a mother looks at her discouraged fourth-grader, she also sees her as an exuberant toddler. When a dad looks at his newly-sullen teenager, he also sees him as a happy-go-lucky preschooler.
A mother recently expressed concern that her chubby baby wasn’t eating enough. I thought she was joking until I observed her serious expression. Later she shared that he was born small for his gestational age. I began to understand her interest in his nutrition in a new way.
When she looks at her son, she remembers that scrawny denizen of the NICU. Her primal urge to help him gain weight continues into her parenting experience.
This phenomenon holds true on the other end as well. Recently, a father eagerly shared the video of his gangly 12-year old’s ballet performance. I saw her serious effort carried out with uncertain steps and arms and legs which seemed too long for much control.
But he proudly saw in her the grace of the prima ballerina he’s sure she’s destined to become. He sees possibility in her reflected in his loving eyes.
This long view of their children enables parents to provide an essential gift for their children: perspective. And—lucky for kids—all of the ages their parents see are beloved ones. Most of the time, that long view their parents have is through a glass that is somewhat rose-colored.
Claudia Quigg is the Founding Executive Director of Baby Talk – Teaching Activities for Learning and Knowledge – in Decatur, Illinois.