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

Posted December 1, 2008 by

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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.


Annita Wozniak 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 the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at annitawoz.wordpress.com

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  1. Annita (Edit) Report

    Hello all! Thank you for the warm welcome and your comments on this first posting. It is good to be writing for EP.

    I wanted to share that 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, and 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 is to take all these messages, all these comments, all these defining moments perhaps, to take all these tidbits that we have cobbled together from our memories and turn ourselves into the best parents we can be. No easy task!

    I admit that I like that web conversations like this one, let 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 just doing the very best she knew how to do. (Thanks Mom.)

  2. Jane (Edit) Report

    Wow!! What an awesome blog!! You are so right we all need to stop and think before we make statements to our children. You have hit the nail on the head. Great Job!!Your children are very lucky to have such wonderful parents!!!

  3. Elisabeth (Edit) Report

    Annita, welcome to the Parent Blogger team at EP! I love this idea — thanks for the reminder. Recently, something happened along these lines at our house. I was folding laundry while my 5 year old son played with some cars on the floor. When I turned around, I found that he’d also folded a whole stack of towels. (Boy, did my jaw drop. Random cleaning up is something my son does not do!) When I asked him who taught him how to fold so neatly, he said, “I learned from watching you, Mommy.” This is a very small, incidental example, but it made me think — if he’s been watching me do something so trivial as fold towels, what else is he watching and learning how to do from us? The next thought was, of course: I really hope we’re teaching him the right things! (And to be honest, sometimes I know we screw up, and say and do things that we shouldn’t. But the funny thing is, just knowing that those little eyes are watching makes me want to be a better person, for him.) Thanks for your beautiful post.

  4. Kim (Edit) Report

    I totally agree with everything that you said. You neverer know when you are going to influence a child, in positive or negative ways. That is why it is important to be aware of how you act around children, especially how you deal with
    problems and behaviors. It is a huge responsibilty when you think about it.

    Your article reminded me of a book, The Power of Guidance by Dan Gartell. It is written for early childhood teachers but it is relevant to parenting also. I went to a conference that he presented at and he has a lot of good things to say about guidance and understanding children. He believes in preventing problem behaviors and that most of the time children don’t make mistakes, their behavior is just mistaken.

  5. Bob W. (Edit) Report

    Great start to your blog! The last three paragraphs are exactly what parents need to think about and remember whenever they are faced with tough situations with their children.

    Thanks for the future cue!

  6. Joe Grossi (Edit) Report

    Well said. I too have to be careful on what is said around the little ones. We all, can recall our own “defining” moment inour lives.

    Hopefully, the moments I leave for our children, will be positive.

    Thanks, for sharing.



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