Childhood is painful.
When we’re little our parents try to protect us. They want to make sure nothing bad happens. You often hear new parents talk about how they would do anything to shield their children from pain, how they wish they could take everything bad away.
This is very sweet and well-meaning. It’s also terribly misguided.
Childhood is painful simply by virtue of being and it’s meant to be. We often think of childhood as this time to be innocent and this time to learn about basic human functions. But in truth, it's more than that.
The entire experience is a series of lessons meant to prepare us for growing up. Trying to shelter kids from those experiences, from pain, can actually have adverse effects. You can’t keep a kid away from these things forever and trying to will only ensure that they lack healthy ways of dealing with their emotions and of confronting problems.
While some childhoods may be rosier than others the intention is still the same. It’s a system designed to teach us what we need if only we give ourselves the time and space to look back and to take responsibility for where we are now and to appreciate the control we now have over our own life. Here’s what looking back can teach you about looking forward.
How to be grateful.
We don’t have the emotional capacity to unconditionally love our parents in a meaningful way when they have to love us the most. This is to say, we can only ever appreciate our childhoods in retrospect. As kids, there is simply so much to be grateful for, not least of which is having someone who feeds you and takes care of you. When we grow we can recognize all of the little things that were done in the name of ensuring our safety and health. The idea here is to use that recognition as a catalyst for becoming aware of our surroundings. We can now practice being grateful for things while we still have them, instead of years after.
How to accept change.
We spend years changing so drastically from one year to the next. When we’re young, few things are ever constant about ourselves. Our likes change, our bodies change, our friends change, our classes change. While our bodies change at a slower pace after a certain age, our minds, our influences, and our lives continue to evolve. It is only after we grow up that we become attached to specific outcomes and harbor expectations for people and things. Things are definitely going to always keep changing. Being a child is a crash course in accepting change and embracing the ebbs and flow of life.
How to let go.
Through the years of childhood, enough time will have passed for introspection to have space in our lives as adults. Time is often referred to as something that can heal but its passing is equally something that causes pain. As a child, we feel sadness, but we also move on from it. We have to let go of friends, of teachers, of our parents. It’s not that we forget but that we don’t allow it to hold us back from continuing to be happy, from continuing to live life.
We often tell children to enjoy being young. We might talk about some of what’s waiting for them on the other side and tell them how lucky they are. In reality, children aren’t able to be thankful where they are because it’s the only place they’ve ever been.
As grown-ups, we look back at being kids and wish we were still there too. Which goes against the very things childhood is trying to teach us … to move forward, to accept evolving, and to look back only to appreciate and learn from what was.