Our Future Children and Our Past Selves

Using a “Time Machine Mentality” to Frame Our Parenting Decisions

Our Future Children and Our Past Selves

Let’s use our imaginations for a moment: Scientists have created a monitor we can use to view our past, to pierce the veil of time and watch our lives from five, 15 or 30 years ago. This isn’t time travel — we can’t actually alter anything — but we can observe our actions with perfect clarity.

We decide to use this device to look back and examine some of our time spent with our children, when they — and we — were much younger.

  • What would we see?

  • What would we think of our parenting methods?

  • Would we be happy or sad?

  • Proud or disturbed?

Would we eagerly use this monitor, or would we dread what we were about to witness?

It’s easy to lose track of the big picture in our hectic day-to-day activities.

One day tends to blur into the next and we can fall into patterns, particularly when it comes to our children. Sometimes those patterns are necessary and work for us — the routine to get everyone ready for school and out the door in the morning is a must — but there are other times when our parenting skills get put on “autopilot” and we don’t give our children the attention they need.

Or, worse, the day might have worn down our patience to the point where, when we get home, we become short-tempered with our family, who have done nothing to deserve this behavior from us.

When we look through our monitor at the past, would we smile at what we see, or would we be begging the person we see in the monitor to make different decisions?

Now, let’s look at this situation from the other direction. Our time monitor is set to look five, 15 or 30 years into the future, and we can see the relationship we have with our children now that they are adults. Did they build good lives? Are they living their dreams? Are they reaching their goals and thriving? Do we have a close relationship with them? Do they still come to us for guidance? Or did they leave as soon as they could, ready to put as much distance between us and them as possible?

While we can’t change the past, it’s well within our power to change both the present and the future.

If we don’t like the picture we’re imagining of our adult children and our relationship with them, the time is now to change our behavior so we can influence the future behavior and actions of our child.

Often, this “time machine mentality” is all it takes to remind us to stop, take a breath and rethink our reactions. What we say and do in anger can stay with our children for the rest of their lives. When we give our children our full attention, love and encouragement and let them know we are listening because we love them and want what’s best for them, that can stay with them as well.

A friend of mine once shared one of his parenting philosophies with me that, while simple on the surface, really made a difference in the way his children saw the world and their place in it. Sometimes they would ask if they could do something, and if he was busy or otherwise distracted, he would catch himself saying “no” automatically.

When they could offer a logical, reasonable debate as to why they should be able to do the thing — not whining, pouting or pitching a fit — he would often reverse his initial decision. He reserved the right to be persuaded. This philosophy taught a valuable lesson to both the parent and the child. The child learned using calm rationality would sometimes win the day (or they knew they would at least be heard), and my friend got the opportunity to have an actual discussion with them, which could naturally lead to teachable moments.

His children are now accomplished, self-sufficient adults who have taken these lessons to heart. If he used our “time monitor,” I know these interactions with his children would make him smile.

While we don’t have access to this type of device — at least, not yet — the idea of it can still be of value. As parents, we have to make decisions when it comes to the children under our roof. While we make these dozens of times a day when they’re younger, those decisions start to become fewer but potentially more difficult as they get older.

It’s important that we face these questions through this lens, whether they are life-changing moments or everyday judgment calls. Taking the time to think about our actions and how they could create magic memories throughout our lives and our children’s lives gives us a better perspective, and we will live the life we’ve envisioned.

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