Few would deny the importance your parents played in your life. They molded you into who you are today. Sometimes the end product is fantastic – most times, however, it is far from a masterpiece. In this blog, I make an attempt to set some pointers as to the ingredients of an emotionally healthy childhood. If you experience some or all, you have won the lottery – call your parents immediately and thank them profusely. If not, go easy on them – all parents are way out of their depth. They do their best with what they got and had to make it up as they went along.
I had a pretty great childhood – I was one of the lucky ones. It was my second marriage that fucked me up, but that is a story for another blog.
Here are 5 pointers to assess whether or not you had an emotionally healthy childhood.
1) Centre of the Universe
My mother put herself profoundly at my disposal and I felt safe and protected from all the chaos of the outside world. This is not to say that there were no hiccups along the way. When I was a toddler, my mother drove a Mini station wagon that had a faulty back door. Once, on pulling away from a red light, the door opened and I rolled into oncoming traffic – I luckily came out unscathed. She would refer to me as her wonderful child, even though I was many times a little fucking brat. I would break my tennis racket on the court in anger. My mother ran a kindergarten, and I was by far the worst behaved. She would tell all the kids to sit down, I would stand up. I would talk back to her, throw tantrums in the supermarket – I was a fucking nightmare. I grew up on a farm, and I was allowed to run amuck. I developed a strange passion for tractors. My biggest mate was a middle-aged Zulu man. I am embarrassed to say that I don’t know how to correctly write his name (phonetically, it was Ensefia), or even if he is still alive, but he was my hero because he drove the tractor on the farm. Even with this freedom, my mother always placed boundaries within which I could be myself, and I always felt unconditionally loved. I called her a couple of months ago, a few weeks after turning 50, and told her what a fantastic job she did on me – there is a special place in heaven for mothers.
She allowed me to be a brat for a time. This freedom prepares you to submit to the demands of society. Rebellion comes from being exposed to rigid rules and ruthless application of them. My best friend at school had a mother who was a certifiable psychopath. If he didn’t score 100% on a test, she would go to the school and demand to see the exam to understand where he went wrong. When he left school, he choose the furthest university from his mother, got into drugs, and was killed in drug-related violence in his second year.
2) Small Things
For small humans, small things are important. My mother would never minimize the importance of small things. I played competitive tennis when I was a kid (back to the reference of breaking rackets – I had a demonic temper). I was also manic about having one specific blue water bottle when I played – it had to be that blue bottle or I would lose my shit. This is a bit like Rafael Nadal – other than he is good! My mother would always remember this. She could have said – don’t be a stupid pussy – but she didn’t. Good parents don’t minimize the small things. Instead, they assure the kids they are important and will be fixed – like a tear in your favorite book, or losing the tail off your stuffed lion.
3) Strange Phases
My parents let me go through numerous strange phases. I have an addictive personality – luckily, most of the addictions have been healthy because they were linked to sport. Around the age of 10, I got hooked on BMX racing. I was introduced to it by a friend of mine – his stepfather was an ex rally driver and now sold car batteries. He was a functional alcoholic. He was mean to his stepson but was great to me. He took a real interest in my BMX racing, and with that, I was introduced to the least desirable elements of town. We would travel around the country racing, and I would all the bad elements back home with me. How my parents put up with me, I have no idea. They knew that sanity would prevail. They had confidence that they have raised me right and I would work this strange phase through my system – and they were right.
4) No Perfection
I am a perfectionist – I do everything at 1000%. They saw this, and they never placed too much importance on my achievements. I would bring back the perfect report card, or win a track race, or play an awesome round of golf. Their response – that nice, my boy. At the time, I hated the indifference, but as I grew older, I realized that this was not indifference. They were allowing me to be a normal kid – they were saying to me it was ok to be average and mediocre – because they knew how much pressure I was putting on myself – they did not think it wise to add more to the load.
5) Routine and Order
I grew up in a household where drama was kept to a minimum. You could say it was boring and predictable. There was routine and order. When I got home from school, I knew what I would find – there were no surprises. My parents did not have a perfect marriage. Kids do not need to know all of the issues with which the parents are struggling.
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