What Defines a Defining Moment?

What Defines a Defining Moment? (Believe it or not, Our Kids Really are Listening to Us)

I have a theory about the three little ones (ages 10, 9 and 5) that I am raising. As a parent, I remind myself that I can build them up or tear them down when I don’t even know it.

When I was about 10, I was given the responsibility of cooking dinner for my family while mom would head out to the factory for the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. I learned to make things like pork chops and casseroles. I found ways to put things in the oven and then go next door and play. Most of the time I made it back before anything burned.

My cooking training came whenever a meal was being made. I would assist my mom or dad, since both of them were talented in the kitchen.

One time I was given the task of peeling some potatoes for the Sunday dinner. For some reason, we never used the classic potato peeler on potatoes. We only used it for carrots! Instead we used a small, sharp paring knife similar to the one that my Grandma Isabel used in her farmhouse. I have very vivid memories of creamy yellow potatoes piling into the dented aluminum pot, their jackets left in heaps on newspapers that made cleanup quick and easy.

On this Sunday, I wanted to show my mom that I was speedy and helpful so I peeled those potatoes as fast as I could while standing at the stainless steel sink set into the rust orange counter tops. Imagine my surprise when instead of praise, I got a stern, “you have wasted more potato than we have left to boil. You need to work on removing the peeling and leaving the potato. “

Today, whenever I peel a potato, I think of those words. Silly words, really.

Now who would think that comment would stick with me? Who would think that a comment about peelings would pop into my head every time I prepare potatoes for the next 28 years?

We never know when the words that we say will become the defining moments in our children’s memories. When I’m on the verge of ranting about some mistake my children make, I remember the potato peelings in the sink with all the white starchy flesh attached to my mom’s disappointment.

As a parent I never know what will make a dent in my children’s memories or how they will hear my words and for no reason at all, some of them will echo in their little heads later in their lifetimes. And the echo will tell them lessons that I didn’t mean to teach them that day.

I hope they hear the spirit builders, and only listen to the best of me. And just to be safe, when my kids are helping me with dinner, I encourage them to reach for the potato peeler instead of the paring knife every time.

by: EP Parent Blogger Annita Woz
Annita Woz grew up in a large imperfect family in the Midwest. “As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down,” she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, “and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child’s life.” Woz is a writer and child-grower living in Wisconsin with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning.

‘What Defines a Defining Moment’ reprinted with permission from Empowering Parents. For more information, visit www.empoweringparents.com.

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  1. This is a very apt reminder that our children’s minds are like wet cement, and everything we say and do can make a lasting impression.

  2. I shudder to think of some of the things I’ve said and done to my children – even worse…the things I don’t remember.

  3. This is so true! I am very cognizant of those moments because I remember the day when I was probably about ten when I decided I would stop sharing my thoughts/feeling with my mom simply because her response was always “hmmm”. I didn’t feel like she cared about what I had to say. We have a great relationship now, but I pay close attention to my “hmmm’s” when talking to my children (which I am guilty of sometimes). This website is such a great resource to keep us all on track as parents!

  4. Lareesa, none of us are perfect… far from it! But it is comforting to know that all of the good we do from today moving forward will make a big impression! Let bygones be bygones and focus on today!

  5. Loved reading this because it reminds us of how carefully we should choose our words and how they can effect our kids, our most precious possesions!!

  6. That just makes me want to cry because I am guilty, guilty, guilty! How I wish I were the perfect parent. But like Annita says, I hope they hear the spirit builders and that plays louder in their heads then those words I’ve said in haste.

  7. I,m not sure that every comment like this mars you for life. Sometimes it may even you a valuable teach a lesson.

  8. This story really hit home with me on several levels. One that comes to mind is growing up with my stepfather who detested crumbs left in the butter. He would rant on and on if any were left behind. To this day I can’t butter toast without thinking about it. Then out of the blue! On Thanksgiving day at my mom’s home (she has been divorced from this man for over 35 years) while having dinner my daughter buttered her pumpkin bread and my mom leaned over and lovingly teasing my daughther saying “did you leave crumbs in the butter??” and they shared a smile. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to ruin their moment as it wasnt’ meant to be a bad thing with my mom and daughter. I know for a fact my mom didn’t realize what impact those words had on me but my mind instantly flew back 40 years to his rantings about this very thing. Amazing how simple silly things will stay with you forever.

  9. I think we ALL have MANY of these OLD TAPES that replay either in our Day-To-Day life, or periodically.
    Some of them Good, some Destructive; Good Parents & ‘Bad’ Parents do it.
    Some Parents CARE

  10. I guess as a child I took things to heart a lot – I am very careful about what I say to my daughter, perhaps remembering how I took the words my mother said to me.
    That said – I’m not perfect – far from it!- and those times when I do say something that I probably shouldn’t have I apologize for (most of the time!).
    I think my daughter gets the idea that I’m doing the best I can (I’m a single mom) and that I’m not perfect. Not a bad lesson, I think!

  11. pettina Stanghon says:

    I think they key word in that piece is at the bottom, about the author, ‘learning’… In life we “win”, get it “right” or learn, and if we live mindfully we can teach our children the same. Failure is the greatest opportunity for growth and personal development, and the belief/ expectation that we are even on the planet to get it right puts unnecessary pressure and pain on us all. I am a counsellor for depression (post natal included) and suicide, and I believe the greatest lesson is to detach any of our value/ self worth from this belief that we have got to get it right! When we do that is wonderful, but more over, when we dont… what a wonderful opportunity tot teach our children that THAT is the human experience….

  12. Kaniz Mavani says:

    What can i say! have been there, done it……
    God Almighty has given me ONE MORE oppurtunity with a granddaughter to correct errors made unintentionally and make her life full of wonderful memories, something to carry forward into their generations to come.
    I make a point NOT to give negative comments, but instead give encouraging dialouge…….I still see this happening from my paternal side of the family and it sends shocks in my spine! IF ONLY THEY KNEW AND REALIZED!

  13. While reading this, my mind began to go backward in time thinking of any comments I may have made that would be detrimental and then I stopped myself before panic set in!@#$! As a mother of 4, I realize that it is impossible to be the “perfect” parent but you can try hard to be a really good one. We work on ourselves everday and some days are better than others. I do not know what of the things I have said could or would become definng moments in my children’s lives. In the end, I can only hope that the positive out weighs the negative and that when my children as adults remember me and my words it is with smile (most of the time anyway:)

  14. Wow! I started peeling potatoes at 12 yrs old and also used a paring knife, and I still peel most of the potato, but who cares! I grew up with negativity, guilt, blame, being made fun of, being called stupid and a dummy, and saying “shut up.” I don’t do any of those things to my children, and I want to be perfect. But I am sure I have done or said things that they will remember in their future. I want to work on my loving attitude, listening to them, and helping them grow. These things will also help me heal from a difficult childhood.

  15. Thinking about this more, on the way home tonight, I realized that this is exactly why my daughter and my mother don’t have a good relationship – because my mother was a bit sharp with my daughter when she was about 8 on a visit and my daughter never forgot it. She’s 13 now.

  16. This story leaves me with a lot of guilt, as there have been many such negative statements which I have made to my 13 year old daughter and 9 year old son. though I do try and make up with them after sometime, but I am sure I would have damaged their confidence in some way.Thanks for such precious eye openers, I will consciously work towards repairing the damage done.

  17. To the parents who have said things that we regret: there is always time to start anew, today is a new day and even if our children are grown we can say things now that will make a difference. No one has a time machine so we can’t go back and do it over, I’m sure we would if we could. The fact that you feel bad shows that you love your child and you are more than willing to do things differently from now on. We can’t help the past and what was said to us when we were children but we can do it differently now.
    Thank you. Touch and hug your child, look into their eyes and say “I love you”.

  18. Such a great article – thank you. I think we will all at one point or another fail and say things we shouldn’t. Lord knows we’re not perfect, but we should definitely limit the insults (as hard as that may be) and remember to praise our kids on a daily basis. And this ofcourse is done by “praying and praying and praying about it.” I know I don’t have the strength or common sense to be “nice” during certain moments in life so I look to God for guidance. A good point to remember though is to go back to your child and let them know why you said what you said (or did what you did) and that you love them regardless. Let them know they make you happy.

    Thanks again for the reminder.

  19. Annita Woz says:

    Hello all! Annita Woz here. Thank you for taking time to comment on the article. I’m glad you were touched by it.

    I spent some time with my mom over Thanksgiving and knowing that this potato peeling story was out there for all the world to read, I took a step back to consider what else I had learned from her. My mom taught me to take pride in my work, to finish what I start, that any job worth doing is worth doing right, and that fools names and faces often appear in public places. Oh no! Now I had written about her on the web! Yet, I believe it is good to be a parent in these times of technology!

    Mom wanted me to go further than she had in her life and believed that she still had things she wanted to accomplish. She wanted me to marry someone for love, get a good education and to work hard to meet my own expectations. She didn’t want me to make the same mistakes she had made.

    She taught me to speak my mind, to expand my vocabulary, to debate issues, to think for myself instead of just following the “in” crowd. Mom’s most repeated line is not about peelings at all, instead it is, “so if all your friends jump off a bridge, what are YOU going to do?”

    Our challenge as parents is to take all these messages, all these comments, all these tidbits that we have cobbled together from our memories and turn ourselves into better parents. No easy task!

    I admit that I like that technology today lets me step back from situations, seek more information, and find balance in those lessons from my childhood, those defining moments, and with strength and support from the on-line community, I try to avoid sounding just like my mom while knowing that without this kind of technology, my mom, like me, like most mothers, my mom was doing the very best she knew how to do. (Thanks Mom.)

  20. Thanks for this reminder! I forget that words ARE powerful and must be CHOSEN wisely. Sometimes we react too harshly over things that in the long run are very insignificant. I cringe when I hear my husband say something that’s not the nicest thing – and me, well I’m not perfect either. All that’s needed is one second to think and reconsider.

  21. It is true that we can “build children up and tear them down” with our comments. And it is just not the parents that can make an everlasting impression on young minds, but also parent’s friends, our children’s friends, anyone with whom our children have been in contact with somehow. I must say that before I say anything to someone I do think if this is going to stay in the minds of some. If I feel that it can be the case, then I do not make that statement.

  22. Ellen, thanks for publishing this article…I would like to add that comments from parents can have impact even when the children are adults. Wouldn’t the world be a much nicer place if we all thought before we spoke! Unfortunately, part of the human condition is that a lot of people never realize or appreciate that sentiment. Even with that awareness, I sometimes lose my temper with my nine year old. I agree that it is so important to consistently and constantly remind our children that we don’t like some of the things they do, but we love them no matter what. My step-father did the same thing to me about potato peeling and I resented it at the time, however, I knew he really loved me and was doing the best he could as a parent. I try to remind my son that although some things I harp about may seem insignificant to him, all of it is to help him become the best person he can be, and even if I make mistakes I will know that I tried to raise him to be a productive and thoughtful individual. Tell your kids you love them every single day and ultimately they will know it!

  23. Annita, thank you for stopping by RaisingSmallsouls, and for your inspirational article.

    I recently read that prior to the invention of electricity, the average American slept for 10 hours per night, and that got me thinking- what kind of world would this be if we all felt well-rested and energetic each and every day? How would parent-child relationships be different if we could do away with the nervous energy that accompanies our hectic lifestyle? How many of the cutting and biting remarks would we have held in, had we not been burdened by fatigue? Imagine if after sundown there was nothing left to do but sleep… ahhhh!

  24. I read this once…not sure who said it or where it came from…and it may not be exactly as the original statement….

    How and What we say to our children becomes their inner voice…. I believe this whole-heartedly.

  25. Paula Green says:

    I have a precious 10 yr old daughter, a genetic duplicate of her big wonderful dad…she will be tall and never petite, has always been off the growth charts. Granpa is diabetic so we have learned her body doesn’t process glucose normally. She is overweight despite our best attempts at healthy eating and exercise for energy…Her doctor (who has no children) makes me feel like a failure as a mom since I can’t seem to control her life to a point of perfect compliance….We also have an athletic 14 yr old brother who burns up the air he breathes and eats more than everyone in the house so she sees this and knows he is older and playing football, etc…My concern is to remain connected and nurturing the beautiful spirit inside my daughter, maintaining her strong sense of self and giving her the knowledge she will need to manage these issues for life without eating disorders etc…I can already tell in 4th grade and the girl drama that we ahve some challenges ahead…is it possible for our strong connection to keep her intact through the adolescent years we face when she is tall, brown, bigger than her friends…and how can I teach and encourage without losing our connection or thwarting her radiant self-esteem???