Weighted by parent guilt? Relax, things are better than you think
Our brains are designed to forget, so why do we sweat the small stuff?
Parent guilt can strike at the most inopportune and surprising times. It's what's happening when a swimming registration brings you to your knees or a bagged lunch sends you into a spiral of mommy madness.
"This morning I almost had a nervous breakdown because I forgot to put a juice box in Noah's bag," said Esti Ferreira, mom to nine-year-old Noah.
Ferreira spent some time on the phone trying to orchestrate a juice box drop without success.
Cue the parent guilt.
"I feel like I'm never doing enough, but with working — and Noah and I also foster sometimes — I feel like I'm always doing something and going somewhere. I don't even take time for myself, so I don't know how I could possibly do more," said Ferreira.
She's not alone in the jam-packed parent experience. There's only so much space in our little brains for the information overload involved in raising kids, according to experts.
But that same lack of cranial capacity in our kids might just be a blessing.
I don't even take time for myself, so I don't know how I could possibly do more.- Esti Ferreira
Paul Frankland is a neuroscientist at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children. He jokes that we can give ourselves a bit of a break until our kids' brains turn four or five.
"It seems as though in that period of our lives we can make these memories but we can't keep them around. There's something that sort of gradually erodes them or erases these memories," he said.
In 2014, Frankland was the lead researcher for a study that sought to explain the loss of early childhood memories. By testing the memories of adult and infant mice, his team was able to verify that the production of new neurons in the brain modified circuits in the early brain, causing stored memories to be lost.
Memories after four or five, as long as they are interesting or important enough, says Frankland, have the potential to last the rest of our lives.
"Our first memories tend to be highly emotional events. A very typical first memory for people who have younger siblings is the birth of their younger sibling," said Frankland, whose own daughter was just three years old at the time of his research.
"Even though they may not have an explicit memory of vacations to Disney or something like that, it's still going to be good for them. It's going to be stimulating. The only thing I'd say is take pictures."
The bottom line? Sweating the small stuff may not be as important as the occasional big win, if we remember to focus on the overall positive picture.
For Ferreira, that came at the end of the school day when her son informed her that he was just fine with the water fountain.
"I look at Noah and I think he's pretty great, so I feel like I can cut myself some slack in that," she said.
"I can't be doing that bad of a job if I see how great my kid is."