Kids ask me all kinds of tough questions. They inquire about my personal life, ask me if they are my favorite client, and sometimes ask if I can adopt them. They look for insights regarding why they got cancer, and grapple with the dilemma of why someone who loves them would also beat them with a crop or force them into sexual intercourse with strangers.
I’m comfortable working through these issues with kids. I try to identify the real concerns behind their questions. These discussions help children understand their past, and thus enable them to live today rather than lament yesterday’s hurts.
However, there is one question that I dread hearing from kids. Will I grow up to be normal?
I know that I’m expected to reassure children they will grow up to be healthy, happy and normal adults. I have only one problem with that answer. It’s generally not true.
The uncomfortable reality is that children who have a troubled childhood are more likely to have problems throughout their lives. There is an abundance of research to indicate that children who experience divorce, abuse, family violence, or who are born to teenage moms are more likely to have problems throughout their adulthood. The events that occur in childhood resonate throughout our lives. Children raised in homes with abusive, incompetent, absent, or drug-addicted parents will be impacted significantly and detrimentally by that upbringing. A weekly hour of therapy will not erase years of terrible parenting. Kids are more likely to imitate their parents and continue a cycle of dysfunctional living.
I come to work every day because I think I am making a difference in the lives of these children. I have to believe the following.
- Yesterday’s events do not determine today’s behavior. There is no denying that we are all affected by the way we were raised by our parents. However, we make choices every day that are within our control, and those choices are not predetermined by our family backgrounds.
- People can change. My profession is built upon an assumption that with love, support, and hard work children can exhibit an amazing resiliency to overcome past problems and live happy lives. Sometimes this requires that kids be removed from alcoholic parents. Sometimes therapy helps alter the way kids think, feel and behave. Sometimes the pain from a divorce fades and vengeful adults morph into responsible parents.
My life is based on a passionate belief that all of us have a capacity for change, and I try to communicate that to kids every day. I find myself quoting a television program (Criminal Minds) to answer their questions about whether they will grow up normal. “Scars remind us of where we have been…they do not have to dictate where we are going…”