Many adults want to deny the significance of what happened to them when they were young and vulnerable. Others believe that they should “just get over” any problems they had as they were growing up. The truth is childhood is an important part of who we all are.
Our feelings about ourselves and our expectations of family life begin when we are very small. We are dependent on our parents, not only for the necessities of every day life, but psychologically and emotionally. When needs are mostly met development proceeds at a healthy pace. When needs are not met our overall sense of security is affected, which in turn, impacts our developing confidence and self-esteem.
There’s often inconsistency between what people say about their own childhood and how they feel about tending to the needs of their children. We all agree that kids need to feel safe, happy, and loved. We know a nurturing environment helps boys and girls grow into healthy adults. But then as adults, we frequently tell ourselves that feelings from our own upbringing are irrelevant.
If people “just get over it,” what difference would the quality of anybody’s childhood really make? Knowing it’s important for our children to grow up in a healthy atmosphere, means that our early years had to have been important too – either the quality of childhood matters or it doesn’t.
Embarrassment that childhood events are still haunting us can make memories difficult to think about. “I should be over this by now.” Or, “What difference does it make, it was a long time ago” are common responses to the possibility that childhood continues to matter once we become adults. “I’m not getting into parent blaming” is another way people avoid the implications of their past.
The purpose of looking back isn’t to figure out whom to blame for current problems. Exploring our childhood feelings gives us the ability to link together what happened with what’s happening. Piecing together the past with the present helps us make sense of how we feel and legitimizes why we feel the way we do.
Denying the significance of childhood doesn’t render it meaningless. In reality, the opposite is true. Refusing to consider the circumstances of our past creates the probability of repeating some aspect of the unhealthy behaviors we grew up with, without ever realizing why.
For example, if our parents disrespected one another or treated us badly, we might see similar behavior patterns in ourselves. Exploring the experiences of childhood can help us understand why we sometimes do things that, on the surface, don’t make any sense.
Unexplored anger, hurt, and fear from long ago can lead to unhealthy behaviors, unhappy relationships, and unexplained anxiety and depression. Because these problems affect us and our families, it’s doubly important to understand the significance of our own childhood pain. In addition, becoming more comfortable with our emotions actually contributes to developing good relationships with our children, and it helps them learn to be comfortable with their feelings too.