The Wisdom of the Fortune Cookie


“I got a fortune cookie that said, ‘To remember is to understand.’ I have never forgotten it. A good judge remembers what it was like to be a lawyer. A good editor remembers being a writer. A good parent remembers what it was like to be a child.”

-Anna Quindlen, writer

Back in the day…

When I was you age…

As a kid I used to…

I cringe to admit, but these phrases have come out of my mouth when talking to my daughters, ages 15 to 20. (Okay. Maybe not “back in the day,” but still.) I am guilty of imposing on my kids my idealized version of my younger self.

But here is the thing: Do I really remember what it was like to be a child?

Not in that “I-walked-two-miles-a-day-uphill-both-ways-to-school-through-the-snow-with-the-sun-beating-down-on-my-head” remembering. But the remembering of what it felt like to be 6 years old and feeling worried that no one will play with me at recess? Or being 9 years old and being nervous that I didn’t get long division even though you used to be good at math? Or being 13 years old and worrying that my friends who used to be my friends aren’t really my friends? Or being 18 years old and hoping that the college of my dreams would choose me and that my parents wouldn’t be too upset if said school didn’t?

Really remembering, really recalling what it was like to be the same age as our children is a powerful technique when thinking about how to talk to our children. It helps us move past idealized recollections of ourselves (Really? Uphill both ways?), grounding us to what we were thinking, feeling and experiencing when we were the same age as our child.

That said, our children are not extensions of ourselves. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, their own trials and tribulations and their own preferences and proclivities. They are growing up in a period of texting and social media that complicates their relationships and showcases their insecurities on a scale that is much larger than one we could have ever imagined. Their economy is different and their job opportunities may be career paths that we do not even know yet exist.

But developmentally, not that much has changed, Sure, the level of sophistication of a 6 year old is more than what I possessed at the same age. I had never eaten sushi.   My television had five channels. Travelling out of the state seemed like a big deal, never mind the country. Microwaves, cordless telephones and pagers were owned by very few. But 6 year olds still worry about having people to play with at school. And 9 year olds wonder if they are smart. 13 year olds worry about fitting in and 17 are concerned about college.

In fact, I think the level of sophistication that so many kids possess make us forget where they are developmentally. And we lose sight that as much as they seem to know stuff in this age of Google, they still don’t know a lot. Developmentally they still are where they are.

Here is my suggestion that I heard somewhere else a while back and now I share with you: keep a picture of yourself at the ages your children are (or the children you teach or coach). Look at it every once and again and try to remember how you felt, what worried you, what dreams you had, what challenges you faced, what was important to you, who your friends were and how you spent your time.

To remember is to understand.