The gift of a loving childhood
The following is my account of why I believe that a happy, healthy and loving upbringing is the most valuable gift one could ever have bestowed upon them.
I am a psychiatric nurse. Each and every day I come across individuals who have experienced and been the recipients of poor attachments, dysfunctional caregiving and a lack of positive role modeling in their childhoods.
We have a plethora of evidence at our disposal that informs us that a loving and healthy childhood increases life outcomes exponentially. However, we currently find ourselves living in a time of superficial stark contrasts.
On the one hand, we live in a time of mass-consumerism. Never before have we had as a society the opportunity to purchase, utilise and communicate with such a vast array of technological gadgets.
However, paradoxically we now find ourselves living in a time of social isolation and unprecedented levels of austerity. Just one illustration of this is the recent UN’s findings that the UK government’s austerity policies have inflicted great misery on its citizens.
So where are we going wrong? Are we going wrong at all? Do we have different expectations than previous generations, and are they justified?
My father was born three years before World War Two. In the heart of the working class East End of London. He was one of eight children. One brother died in infancy, another brother died in his twenties. My father’s own father died while on home guard duty in World War Two, due to injuries sustained whilst on active duty in World War One.
Despite being born into such hardship, as a child myself the only anecdotes I can recall my father ever recalling about his own upbringing were ones of humour, pride, and kinship. The following being my favourite. My father being the youngest sibling to five older sisters equated to him getting in the weekly bath after all his sisters. No changing of bath water. My father got in last and that was it.
My mother was also born into a working-class War-era family. For much of her early infancy, her own father was away on active service in World War Two. Her father saw action at Dunkirk, North Africa, and Italy. After the war, he returned to civvy street and saw out his working days as a bus driver.
Like my father, my mother’s accounts of her own upbringing were ones of humour, pride, and kinship.
I was born in the 1970s. The last of three children. At which time my dad worked for the government-owned post office and my mother was a childminder.
On reflection, I feel as a child I was neither spoilt or over-protected. I was simply loved and cared for. And looking back, I felt it. I was brought up to value the positives in life. I was taught that hard work paid off. I was taught that attributes such as trust, pride, self-worth were to be valued.
However, I now see that such attributes were not taught. They were role-modelled.
My parents have always been there for me. Even when I didn’t realise it at the time. Even at times when I may have felt I no longer needed them, I now know they were still there. Waiting in the wings, just in case.
There is one vivid memory I have of my father and me. My father dropped me off at a local London tube station. I was in my early twenties, I had my rucksack on, and I was off on my travels. I had a plane ticket to India and no long term plan. For me, it was a dream come true.
I can recall how I felt in that moment as my father and I hugged one another as he left me to get the tube to Heathrow airport. I felt so alive. I felt excited, adventurous and independent.
However, I am now a parent myself. And as such, only now can I start to appreciate how my father may have felt as he said goodbye to me on that day. He probably saw his son, a young man full of naivety, innocence, and vulnerability. He may not have understood why I needed to go half the way around the world to find myself.
But what I now understand are the contradictory and conflicting emotions he most probably felt when we said goodbye to one another. Love, fear, anxiety, pride. I now understand, because as a father, that is what I would feel if it were me saying goodbye to one of my children.
So, in returning to the subject of this story, I am one of the lucky ones. My parents gave me the greatest of gifts. A loving and healthy childhood.
Originally published in Medium publication ‘Hopes & Dreams‘ 13/03/19