mama scout lab e-course

Friday, March 22, 2013

{family lab} picturing the past

We have been thinking about our own childhood experiences for the last two labs (if this has been hard, I promise we will lighten up soon) This sort of reflection can be invigorating or draining, I know.

I think it is inevitable as we become parents we rethink our own experiences growing up. I know in my case, I always thought I had a pretty good childhood. I felt loved, safe, and appreciated. But still, little things bubbled up as I began to parent. This is an inevitable part of every parenting journey. I began realizing why I behave in certain ways or have little tolerance for particular behaviors. I have gone through periods of anger and resentment. Luckily, finally, I ended feeling accepting of my past and resolved to move on.

Understanding how my childhood shaped me has helped me be such a better parent. I have been able to stop certain family habits and catch myself before I engage in other negative behaviors.

Of course, there are still things I have a hard time controlling and I am always working on those  (chiefly a lack of patience and angry outbursts).

I believe we are all works in progress and sometimes our machinery gets gunked up and needs a recalibration.

Even though we can not do full therapy sessions in this lab, I am offering a few ways of accessing the past which have the potential to heal or become celebrations. Whichever you need. 

Today, pull out a photograph from your childhood, we are going to write about it for 10 minutes.

If you really get into a flow, keep going, no doubt something you might have forgotten will come up. If you are stuck, try describing the physical surroundings and your memories about how things felt, smelt, tasted etc.

If you can, think about ways your childhood was different that your child's. Both good and bad. Write and dig and keep writing.

When you are done, think about keep the two together in your journal or photo album.

Share your photo and experience with the group in the comments if you can.

Have a family story time and work on developing stories from your childhood to share with your kids.

Some of my kids' favorite stories (near myths at this point) are tales from my husband's and my childhood. I am surprised at how much they want to hear them retold.

These stories connect our children to us, but also to themselves - as essentially, they are their stories too.

This is not formal. Just lay in bed and start remembering with, "When I was a kid..." It is good if both parents are there to compare childhoods.

Please share in the comments. Do you do this already? What is a favorite story that your children love?

I love photography, especially vernacular photography (photos taken by every day people of ordinary life).  

Here are some links exploring the photography of the everyday.

The inspirational way family photos were recovered and saved after 2011 Tsunami in Japan. Here.

A stunning collection of Polaroids. Hugh Crawford took one photo a day for the 18 years before he died at age 41.

Young Me, Now Me
My brother and I riffed off this to make a present for our mom for Christmas. She loved it. Check it out here.)

Awkward Family Photos
This is classic, but it makes me laugh every time.

My Parents Were Awesome

Big Happy Fun House
A great collection of vernacular photographs.


  1. WOW! All the Stories! I was always the one who was asking everyone about their stories and the picture I have of my grandmother and me while she read me one of my favourites is one of the pictures I cherish most. She lived in another country, so we mabe got to see her once a year, but what I remember most, is sitting on the couch with her everynight, after bathtime. She would make us sweet tea and tell us about when she was growing up. Sometimes, she would take out her box of photos and we would be mesmerised by how everyone connected, and what everyone did, like we were discovering long lost secrets that would mabe reveal something about ourselves or let us feel so much more special...

    1. Oh, what a special memory!

      And yes, those stories are like lost secrets that eventually return you to yourself. So powerful!

  2. My 3-year-old daughter and I have a fun bedtime routine of taking turns and making up stories. But instead of making up stories the past few nights, I have started telling her stories from my childhood. They are simple stories about what my first bicycle looked like and how I loved to ride it, and what dolls I used to play with, and how my brother (who died before she was born) and I used to listen to Michael Jackson on cassette tapes, etc. Her eyes are wide and she remembers all of the details and re-tells them the next day. It's sweet. It's challenging for me to remember these details from my childhood, but a great exercise. I still need to do more work to develop these stories. Thank you for the prompt!

    I wonder if you saw the article in the NYTimes called The Family Stories That Bind Us? Because this exercise seems very much in line with the theme of that story. Here is the story: It says that kids who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges. That kids who have the most self-confidence have what they call a strong "intergenerational self." So if you want a happier family, create, refine, and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones.

    1. Isn't it interesting how even the little things, like what your bike looks like, is so fascinating to your children?

      Yes, I read that article too and thought it was great. It is so important to know where you came from.

  3. Last year I spent some time exploring my childhood through picture and words to get to the bottom of a personal crisis that was pushing me into a very dark place. I can't tell you what great therapy it was. I started drawing pictures about events from my childhood in crayon with my non-dominant hand, and then writing about the picture that I'd drawn, again in crayon, again my non-dominant hand. Your writing prompt today reminded me of this, and the gratitude I feel for having done this sometimes very uncomfortable work, and the healing it has brought to me and others in my life.

    Thank you for the creative invitation here. I often tell my children (17 & 8 yo) stories about their early years, and they gobble them up and ask for more. I've never told them stories of my childhood. I will definitely try this, I'm sure that it will be as good for me to tell as it will be for them to hear.

    @CindyR: thanks for the link, interesting article, what great tools to give our children, positive stories.

    1. Thanks for sharing Tracy! That sounds like a pretty powerful process. Did you have a guide or did you do this on your own?


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