As kids’ memories develop, a parent’s responsibilities change

The memories children create in their formative years are a foundation for their future.
Our Faith

Second grade was the year I fell in love with going to school. After being afraid of my kindergarten teacher and subsequently being in her class again as she moved up with me to first grade, I found my second-grade teacher, Mrs. B., to be a breath of fresh air.

She was new to my Catholic grade school and reminded me of legendary teachers I had previously only read about in children’s books. She was fun, creative, and motivating. For math class, she gave us fake money to spend at a “math store” she created out of donated secondhand toys and trinkets. For reading class, we each staged a reading of a book of our choice, directing our classmates in the performance. This happened 33 years ago, but I can easily recall both the details of these memories and the feelings they inspired.

That’s because in second grade I entered what I have dubbed the Age of Remembering. From that time forward, my memories begin to snap into clearer focus. I remember a lot of other things, too—the triumphs and tragedies of early childhood at the hands of parents, teachers, siblings, and peers. I can replay actual sound bites from ancient conversations in my head and provide context to moments that earlier, foggier recollections lack. These aren’t static memories reimagined by looking at old photographs; these are grainy but fully formed VHS tapes I can play in my head on command.

I was thinking about all of this recently because my daughter Madeline entered second grade this fall and has most likely herself entered the Age of Remembering—and, as her father, it’s important for me to remember that. The red dot is blinking now and everything I do and say—or don’t do and say—could be recalled 30 years from now to reveal its lasting impact.


I swear it was only yesterday that I was laughing with my pregnant wife about Maddie’s thumping, in-utero dance parties, holding Maddie’s entire newborn being in the crook of my arm, or tearfully sneaking a peek at her through the window after dropping her off for her first half day of preschool. But here she is today, making her way through the second grade and everything that goes with it. She has a separate life from what happens inside the familiar comfort of our home. I cannot protect her, and I cannot know all that she is facing in her daily adventures, but my own memories remind me that each day she is encountering new challenges, conflicts, and joys.

Maddie is trying to learn to control her big feelings rather than being controlled by them, and she is developing an interior life formed by her time at home and her time at school. This process will only continue as she spends increasingly less time around her immediate family. So how can I make the most of this time and provide positive guardrails as she continues to develop her conscience and self-identity?

During my children’s early lives as babies and toddlers, I would see them in the morning before work, and they would remain largely unchanged by the time I saw them again in the evening. Our relationship picked up right where we had left it. But Maddie is no longer that young toddler. Just like me, she’s had a day. As a working dad, my time with my four young children is already necessarily limited, and as they grow older, I sometimes worry whether I will know them well enough and have enough quality time to build the trusting relationship that can help me to help them navigate the Age of Remembering.

Because once you reach the Age of Remembering, it’s just a short stroll to the Age of Shame. Less desirable memories can fester and grow in importance in your mind to the point where you question your abilities, values, and self-worth. This is where my role as a parent becomes a vital bulwark against the mental lies that make my daughter feel like anything less than a beautiful and beloved child of God.


There is no way to spare her from some of the pains of growing up, and I would never fool myself into thinking that I could or even should, but the thought that, from now on, she will probably remember this stands as a solid reminder to make the most of every encounter and be even more intentional about the father-daughter relationship that I am building.

When an issue arises that she does actively bring to her mother and me, these moments now feel like the World Series of parenting, when I am most fervently praying for the wisdom, patience, and understanding to have the right words that will encourage, illuminate, and, most important, do no harm. My main goal is always to affirm her for coming to us and to make our counsel something she will continue to seek out.

But ultimately, I always try to point her back to the most “Wonderful Counselor” of all (Isa. 9:6). As she enters the Age of Remembering, I want her relationship with God to be one she recalls as ever-present and continues to rely on as her life grows larger, and my influence continues to shrink.

I’m relying on God, too. The Age of Remembering is a bittersweet reminder of my children’s growing independence and the fact that they ultimately don’t belong to me. I am blessed to have custody of these precious souls for a finite time, and no matter the twists and turns on their road to adulthood, it’s a journey I will never forget. 


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This article also appears in the October 2023 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 88, No. 10, pages 43-44). Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Image: Unsplash/Annie Spratt


About the author

Matt Paolelli

Matt Paolelli is a writer and marketing professional who lives near Chicago with his wife and four young children. Read more of his writing at

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