It’s never too late to have a happy childhood

By: Arthur Wenk , Sep 29, 2012

I didn't have a good childhood. Is there anything I can do now as an adult?

The way to have a happy childhood, even later in life, is to provide for yourself those things which your parents could not.

You may have seen this provocative saying on a refrigerator or in a therapist’s office and wondered just how you would go about putting it into action. The saying implies that you didn’t have a happy childhood the first time around. What does it take to produce a happy childhood? Aside from meeting the basic necessities of life, parents who want to give their children a happy childhood provide certain fundamental messages:  you are valued; you are accepted; you are loved; you are understood; you are respected. The absence of these essential messages undermines one’s connectedness, one’s sense of self-esteem, and one’s confidence at belonging in the world.

The way to have a happy childhood, even later in life, is to provide for yourself those things which your parents could not. This approach attaches no blame to your parents but simply recognizes and attempts to address certain deficiencies. If you feel that you were never really listened to as a child, try sitting quietly with a journal in front of you and invite the voice of “Little You” to speak. (Think of yourself at age 5.) Your job will be to record whatever words come forth, without attempting to criticize them, analyze them, or fix them. Just listen and write. Later, you can look at these written words from the point of view of the wise adult you are today, and ask yourself how you can best deal with the child’s feelings and concerns.

You may also benefit from recording the following passage—which you can adapt to fit—and then listening to it meditatively:

Hello “Little You” [your name]: Here I am sitting with you, something I’ve never done before, not because I didn’t love you or didn’t want to, but simply because I never knew how. Forgive me for how long it’s taken me to find you. I want you to know that I’m with you today, and that from now on I’m going to be with you. This is a relationship that, starting today, can grow and grow, and become the most important relationship in our life. First of all, I want to say that I understand that you were all alone, without me, for most of your life, for many, many years, certainly until I got to adulthood. You grew up feeling that you had only yourself.  You were little and frightened. You’ve had to learn how to survive in this world. You looked around and figured out, “How safe am I? How nurtured am I? How bonded or attached am I?” You figured out that you weren’t as safe and nurtured and bonded as you should be. You couldn’t just relax and trust that you would be cared for. I want you to understand that I know what it must have felt like to be you, this little tiny being, trying to survive. And you did survive. You looked around and said, “There’s no one here to support me. I just have to take care of myself.” Now I’m here, and I want you to know that there are better ways of surviving, better ways of coping, that only an adult could know about.  We don’t expect you to understand all these things—you’re just a kid. But you can trust me, and if you can come to me when you’re upset, when you’re scared, I’ll be there. I will listen and I will understand. I am the one—really the only one—that will truly always love you. Other people love you but I am the one that can live inside this body with you until the second that we take our last breath on this earth.  I am learning to understand you and to love you. I want to be the parent that you never had. I want to be the one that understands, and empathizes, and validates. I hope you can trust that I’m becoming that person. Everyone wants a loving relationship; everyone wants a partner. But first you have to know that you have me, and that’s all you really need.” [Adapted, with permission, from a guided meditation by Patti Wilson, M.A., M.Ed.]

Giving yourself a happy childhood means listening to yourself—recognizing and validating your deepest concerns—so that you will now know for an absolute certainty that you are valued, you are accepted, you are loved, you are understood, you are respected.

Arthur Wenk holds a doctorate in musicology and masters degrees in information science, music theory, and psychology.

Art‘s client-centered approach is based on empathic listening, helping clients integrate thoughts, feelings and actions, and assisting them to revise self-stories that have kept them enmeshed in problems: all in the interest of achieving mental, emotional and spiritual wholeness.

Art currently practices at Wilson Counselling Associates in Oakville, Ontario.