The Childhood I Never Had

Waldorf Gnomes

I didn’t have a childhood. My childhood was stolen by emotionally, physically and sexually abusive parents. My nonexistent childhood has caused struggles in my adult life that seem insurmountable. I battle with the feeling that something is missing … something that I will never find in my adult life.  Although my situation was particularly harsh, I have realized that most adults have unfinished childhoods. They may have lost someone close to them, experienced abuse (which is more common than we think), or just spent far too little time being a kid.

During the past seven years, I have been devoted to giving my children a safe and nurturing childhood. I have spent time trying to understand what a real childhood looks like. I cannot rely on my instinct. Parental instincts tend to come from our relationship with our parents. And I didn’t have parents. I had abusers. So I research. I read parenting blogs and articles. I ask questions … many questions. What do kids need from parents? How do they interpret our discipline approaches? What activities help them discover who they are meant to be?

My questions led me to consider the advantages and disadvantages of public school.  And one year ago, I decided that my hopes for my children would not be met in a public school setting.

I felt their time for play would be cut short by a long schedule of classroom instruction at a very young age. They would feel pressure to conform to a particular type of personality that fits our public school system. They would not have the opportunity to express their creativity through art and music. And they would spend most of their time memorizing and testing on facts they would not remember in a few years.

I set out to find a different kind of school. I was looking for a school that would let my kids be themselves. I wanted a school that would embrace learning through creative play. I was searching for an approach that would teach my kids to learn with their entire being. I was looking for a place that would be more interested in the needs of the children than a schedule of learning that may or may not make sense. I found that at Waldorf.

As I read overly judgmental articles on the internet, I am reminded of the comments I have heard from others. I have been accused of widening the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots”. I have been told that I am depriving my children of the diversity in the real world. And like this article says, some have alluded that I have to do my part to make public schools better. I have to pay my debt to society like everyone else.

As a survivor of childhood trauma, I see my role in my children’s lives as a cycle-breaker. And my ideas don’t stop with a lack of abuse. I want to give them a childhood … not the kind of cookie cutter childhood that our society has deemed appropriate for every child, but a real one. The one I didn’t have. I believe our children can do far more for our society if they are grounded in a complete, fulfilling childhood experience. The resulting confidence could not only bring about changes in our educational system, but in our culture as a whole.

I am not sending them to private school so they can be smarter than or academically ahead of other children. I don’t send them to private school because I want them to be sheltered or lack exposure to the diversity in our community. I don’t send them to private school because I am trying to avoid my responsibility to make our education system better. I am sending them to Waldorf so they can be children.

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15 thoughts on “The Childhood I Never Had

  1. The problem with parents like you (who would like a more humanitarian education for their kids) sending their children to private schools is that, if you stayed in the public school system, what you would most likely do is pressure the schools your children attended to be more what you wanted them to be, which is less focused on tests and narrow indicators of achievement, more focused on deeper thinking and creativity. Impoverished parents often endorse the harsh disciplinary methods and focus on performance that are straight-jacketing their kids because that’s what they grew up with and they trust the schools. They also aren’t in the habit of pressuring systems to give them what they want and lack clout anyway. And of course parents who prefer that kind of education for their kids will be happy with it and not seek changes. Your voice is what public schools are losing, and we need that. I’m sure that’s the kind of criticism you’ve heard.

    I don’t agree you have to offer your voice. But as a society I think we need to find a way to make sure your voice is heard. We aren’t doing that. The failure is as much ours–the voting public–as anyone else’s. People without children or whose children have grown have the same responsibilities to public education that you do as a parent with children who are school-age. We are all responsible to our country and to the future, but I don’t think many people take this responsibility seriously.

    Obviously, you have to do what is right for your own children. That has to be your main priority. And Waldorf is what is right for them–that may not be right for every child or every community. But it is a larger societal problem with choice: people who would choose differently simply leave the system, and people who don’t have choices are stuck with what they get, even if it isn’t what we need for our kids. There aren’t easy answers to this. I wish there were. But I’m glad at least your kids will get a kind of education that affirms their humanity. They will be better people for it. And we need that.

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    • I agree with everything you say Ashana. Major change in our education system is needed. And my choice may not help that in the near term. Maybe if we can do better to show the results of an education like Waldorf, we can begin to shift the philosophy around education in our country. In the meantime, I give my kids their childhood back.

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  2. And so we click again! My son is at a Waldorf school as well and I couldn’t be happier of our choice and decision. I see his soul blossom and I am thankful there is a place like this where kids can be kids.

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  3. My 2 oldest children went through the public school system. Their father is a teacher in that system and I am a therapist who works with children. We tried to be that “change that public school needs.” I used to believe that my voice would be heard. I am sending my youngest to Waldorf because public school is a lousy test oriented slave making machine that crushes individuality and ignores parents who don’t fall into lockstep with their inane, bullying practices. I see this in the children who come to me for therapy and all I can do is encourage ways to survive the system and build a life outside it. Public school is harmful to teachers and students.

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    • I have to admit … I have struggled with what kind of changes I would be able to manifest in the public school system. I don’t want to use words like “give up” but that is close to my sentiment. I think there needs to be a paradigm shift in our culture and the way we view children before real change will happen.

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  4. Hi Elisabeth, my name is Carolle Wescoat. I am Steve Hoffman’s grandmother, he is the young man in the Guinness Beer Made of More Wheelchair Basketball commercial. He is the one on the dark shirt and remains in the chair as all the players leave the basketball court. When I started reading your article regarding this commercial, I said to myself, Oh My, I really like this person, what a Wonderful story you wrote. Our family our soooooo proud of Steven (I call him Steven) and anyone that comes in contact with him
    is fortunate to meet, he is a true Inspiration.
    I sped read your story about the childhood you never had and I am going to return and read everything more thoroughly when I have more time.
    Thank you.!

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    • Wow! I am so glad you found my site! I was so moved by this commercial. I have always felt a strong connection to anyone who has overcome. Is it based on his true story? Or is he an actor?

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      • It’s SUCH a small world! To work backwards: Carolle, Bravo on your grandson’s moving work. Patrick Watson’s music which scores the commercial was generously lent to us for a video we produced of young sex trafficking victims, so I was misted over for two reasons.

        Elisabeth: I’ve just found you this morning while working. Same, same, same, only I was the homeliest of 3 and it was the “you’re ‘special’ to me anyway” horror.

        Now much older, with grandchildren, and working full time in counter slavery, I go for stretches where I ‘forget’ only to have it bite sharply, unexpectedly. I have to work hard at not knee-jerk reacting to those who reinforce vulnerability factors in young people.

        I’m so pleased to ‘meet’ you, grateful I decided to work an hour this morning.

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      • I am so glad to meet you too. It really is a small world. I love the way the internet seems to bring us all together. And thank you for what you do. As a survivor, I can’t thank you enough.

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  5. For the starter I know how it feels like to grow up without a parent. Or I should say parents. Either ways, they are excatly for me.
    I almost commit suicide, but fortunately I make it through. It’s extremely tough, if i’m very honest with you.
    The day I want to kill myself is the day I understand what’s matter to me, and what’s not. Since my father left, I became a kid who never talked. I wanted to talk about what happened, but didn’t know how. My mother worked so hard since, and never had a chance to look at me. The funny part was: I wasn’t good at making a new friends. the only thing I had told myself is that I’m ok. dispite the fact that I had had no idea what does that mean.
    I sometimes thought that was the worst thing, growing up without a father. I had no close friends at all. Pretty much I just had to learn how to talk to myself. I started talking to myself since I was a little. I had imagination friends, who at least looked at me when I slept.
    To tell my long story short. I lived alone for all my life. Growing up without a father, Having a mother who had never listened. Becoming an adult without any close friends.
    Last year when my consellor asked me : How do I cope with it? My short and only answer was I had no idea.
    I know you are a good parent, and I know you try your best. You’re not alone here.
    I’m not an expert or anything. But, the day I wanted to kill myself was the day I knew what a kid need.
    A friend, a parent who cares, a role model, and most importantly, someone who he can count on.

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  6. I am so glad I found you when I did, I’ve been reading just about every post you’ve written and as I’ve commented before, you’ve made it easier for me to open up about my experience. Though mine is not as dark as some, my childhood wasn’t the greatest, I lived with grandparents (who were amazing, I was just so far gone in my own little world I didn’t realize how great I had it with them).. Then what glimpse of my childhood was left, was ripped away from me thanks to a disturbed man (non-related, but a close friend of my sisters)…. And now I have small children and want them to have a REAL childhood. Where love is endlessly flowing, kisses and hugs never ending, the ability to play on their strengths and learn from their weaknesses and know that’s what makes them THEM, (they don’t have to excel at every single thing), to be able to express themselves without criticism. Sorry, got off on a rant here…Haha this means a lot to me. My biggest thing right now is clothing choice. Other people have their way of parenting of course, but I choose to let my son dress himself how he chooses. If he wants a tank top and shorts, he’ll learn if it’s 32 degrees out that that isn’t appropriate. (I might add a comment about the cold weather..and of course they would bundle up if that is absolutely what they chose, but that has yet to happen) Some people call this bad parenting, but I call it letting my child express his/herself.

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    • It sounds like you are doing a good job of balancing your past and your present. I spend most of my time trying to do the same thing. It is very challenging. I am not at the point yet where I can let them choose shorts when it is winter. I am still too hovering for that. But I am working up to allowing them more autonomy. It is always a work in process. I am glad you found my blog.

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