This can really be easier said than done. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like my childhood is a time of my life I’d like to leave in the past. The thought of going back to it sounds as inviting as walking into a pit of incredibly large spiders…that is on fire. So you may be thinking, if the thought of my childhood is so terror-inducing, why am I reflecting back on it?
I have always held the belief that our situations define us. By the choices we make, the people we choose to stick with and for how long we stay. But it’s not that simple, everyone is facing situations that are moons away from anyone else’s experience. We are defined by our situations then, but our situations are not fixed, they are the uncontrollable variable in this formula of personality.
Which is why examining them may lead to incredible insight as to who we are. Just a theory, but one I would like to examine further.
In my case, I grew up in the city of Johannesburg, South Africa. I ambled through my childhood as the younger sibling, of a severely middle-class family, desperate for the attention I never got and yet afraid of being in the spotlight. I averaged my way through school, not the best, but close to the top. I gave up caring in high school, convinced there was no way around the dim existence that I knew my city would provide me. I was able to leave quite by accident and suddenly found myself in California, never having left my country at all before that. At eighteen, it was my first culture shock, my first opportunity to realise the ‘other’ that existed in my childhood.
It builds a unique perspective to realise that your growth into an adult did not run along a ‘common’ path. That the ideal situation is truly just a fluctuating concept developed in one’s own mind. And while there are certainly aspects of each of our childhoods that I’m sure we can say needed improvement, there may be some comfort in the realisation that each of us has probably encountered a scary set of situations, where our ideal would just include seven-year-old us eating cookies and riding ponies.
That being said, we shouldn’t discount the things we’ve had to overcome, simply to exist as we do now. Thus, looking at where we began and learning how we’ve grown.
It may not come easily, to recognise if we handled a situation in the best way we possibly could, let alone pat yourself on the back for it. I think that comes with time, with knowing who you are and what your values are, if what you did in the past align with that or even paved the way to it.
I often wonder if I did the right thing in leaving my birth country. Saying goodbye to my family and friends to travel the world is a double-edged sword I’ve been wielding for years. Was I simply evading my problems when I should have faced them head on? Was it wise to leave the situation before I simply made it worse? For a long time I refused to consider these questions, you know, pit of fire spiders and all that.
But I’m learning that looking back on my past, while terrifying still, is allowing me to find a certain kind of peace. The choices I made back then have led me to where I am today. Thank goodness for that.
So perhaps it is a good idea, looking back on the past, understanding what shaped us.
Just be kind to yourself as you do.