From the movie, “The Way We Were,” Barbra Streisand sings, “could it be that it was so simple then, or has time rewritten every line.” I find this line accurately describes the need to rewrite unhappy and traumatic childhoods. Society promotes the illusionary belief and expectation, that all children have wholesome childhoods filled with happy memories of birthdays, summers, holidays and unconditional love. This belief becomes an imaginary yardstick many adults will use to measure childhoods, and when the childhood memories fall short, will hide the unpleasant moments, re-create those moments or refuse acknowledgment.
Our childhoods shape beliefs, values and self-images as adults. When childhoods lack healthy parental guidance to help us build self-confidence, set boundaries and provide healthy examples of adulthood, development becomes slanted. As adults, we may not recognize parental guidance inadequately prepared us for healthy relationships, self-respect and self-worth. Often we repeat dysfunctional patterns of behavior including physical, mental and emotional abuse.
Perhaps part of the challenge is the other illusionary belief that parents should be perfect parents, such as those parents on television or in movies. These artificial parents are the perfect sages; provide compassion, guidance and sympathy. Most movies or shows end with that artificial feeling of “they lived happily ever after.” Most of us had imperfect parents, parents who may have fallen short of a perfect guide or mentor. Some of us never had parental figures, whether the parents were physically in the house.
Some of us never had those traditional homes, an important part of the illusionary belief all children should have growing up. Our homes will filled with conflict, chaos, poverty, abuse and many other situations we tried to cope. Some of us survived childhood damaged, unable to move forward until we are willing to accept the past. We feel shame, anger and a thousand other emotions that eat at hearts and souls, and to feel happy must push past childhoods.
Acceptance of the true state of our childhoods can be a painful process. What we need to first understand and accept, is this illusionary belief of a perfect childhood is an illusion. Everyone growing up has a set of challenges, and few, if any, can claim an idyllic childhood. What we need to understand is growing up is a struggle to become who we will be as an adult, not a picnic in the park.
We need to accept parents with clear eyes and examine their challenges that created childhood environments. So often, parents repeat patterns of behavior learned from their childhoods, unaware of the damage and impact. Acceptance and forgiveness of parents for inadequacies and failures will help heal damage inflicted from childhood.
When we can view childhood and extract the true lessons learned, we can correct behaviors, strengthen weaknesses and develop positive self-images. We should recognize an important accomplishment in moving past imperfect childhoods and moving into the person we can be, once the childhood illusion has been removed. Shame, disgust, and anger from childhood have no place in our future, as their proper place is the past.
Whether we choose to seek professional help, spiritual help or perform self-help, we can move beyond imperfect childhoods. We can break the illusions and the hold from childhood pasts, but the choice is ours. We cannot change what was, but can shape what will be, and releasing the illusion of our childhoods will have a positive effect on the person we can be.