Two of my clients—both women in their early twenties—claimed to have enjoyed perfect childhoods.
Intrigued, I asked them for more details. Their stories were remarkably similar. They could not remember any problems growing up. They both got on well with their parents, friends and siblings. Both sets of parents were ensconced in loving, placid marriages. Both women felt fully supported all the way through school.
Their lives sounded so idyllic that I found them hard to believe. Perhaps their parents quietly solved any problems that arose. In the end, however, both women convinced me that their childhoods had been close to perfect.
So why were they now sitting in my office crying their eyes out, week after week?
Again, their experiences mirrored each other.
One was a jillaroo who loved working in the bush. Her boss was a decade or two older than her, and they got on well. One evening they were sitting around the campfire when out of the blue, he suggested he come to bed with her. The other was a nanny in the city. She looked after two children for a professional couple. She thought it was a great job until the day the husband suggested they have a sexual encounter.
Each woman immediately declined her boss’s offer. But that wasn’t the end of it. Most women would defuse the situation by talking about their boyfriend, whether they had one or not. But this is not how these two young women reacted. They were devastated. They immediately quit their jobs, went home to their respective parents, and had an emotional breakdown.
They couldn’t cope. They had no idea that such a terrible thing could happen. They cried for weeks. They were grieving for the perfect world of their childhood. They had now started the hard job of seeing the darker side of life and coming to terms with it. Their “perfect” childhood had not prepared them for the real world.
These women taught me that there is no such thing as a perfect childhood. Children need to be exposed to conflict. They need to experience difficulties. They need to see that life can be tough and that things will not always go the way they want. Of course, on the other hand, they need a childhood where the problems are not consistently overwhelming. They need to see that problems can be solved and overcome. This gives them resilience.
Everyone will experience, in adulthood, challenges that have arisen from their upbringing. No one, even those with the “perfect” childhood, escapes suffering in adulthood. As adults, we have the opportunity to address the issues that have their genesis in our childhood. We all have emotional triggers. We all have inappropriate reactions. We all suffer some emotional pain. As we resolve our issues we build more awareness. We understand more about ourselves and others. This growing knowledge helps us make better and better decisions as we progress through life.
I see so many mothers striving to be the perfect mother by giving their children the perfect childhood. But their efforts are in vain. There is no such thing. Their children will grow up with wounds from their childhood no matter how hard they try.
Life gives us both joy and hardship. Character and resilience is built from experience. That is the way it is meant to be.
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