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COLUMN: Childhood memories have a lasting effect

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By John Lapp

Whether you were raised as an only child, one with several siblings, raised as a foster child, or adopted, whether you were raised with both parents still married or divorced, this can/will often have a minor or major impact on childhood, other things being considered.
Not all children who have been raised with divorced parents, for example, are subject to the same patterns of care or lack thereof. Some children have spent the better part of their childhood raised in an orphanage with only substitute-type parenting.
Well, a few examples will hopefully help to address some statements often heard in my counseling office. As adults, many of my clients attempt to develop the theme: “I can’t help the way I am today, if you (counselor) only knew what it was like.”
The counseling will hopefully direct this person to unravel some of these long-standing events and/or behaviors that are having a negative effect on their lives.
The question remains: How is it that one person raised in the same type of childhood turns out to act, as an adult, a certain way while still another acts somewhat or totally different?
A prime example: the oldest of three children, does well in school, avoids any kind of delinquent-type adolescent behavior, eventually dates and marries his sweetheart, they have several children, he goes to college and completes both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Meanwhile, his two younger siblings had a history of irreverent/rebellious behavior, did not finish school, developed the wrong set of adolescent friends, had several adult experiences of unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, multiple marriages, alcoholism, etc., and their lives as of the time of the writing of this column are still unsteady, with multiple seemingly unsolvable problems. All of the children, by the way, were raised with divorce, alcoholism and other unseemly patterns of adult behavior.
“Well,” you may be thinking to yourself, “was the older of the three children the spoiled brat of the family, highly favored more than the others?”
Put that question to rest.
The truth is that the mother stated to another adult friend one day, “How (name not included) turned out to be the way he is today has nothing to do with me ... because much of the time I did not parent as I should have,” then proceeded to explain the many years of divorce and alcoholism that took her in another direction.
Another question might be: “Why didn’t the younger siblings look to the older one and follow that example instead of going the direction that they did?”
An excellent question, but history has produced that one of the children, whether it is the oldest, the youngest or the middle, will become the exception, although not always exceptional in status of our society of what might considered to be included in that definition.
A recently deceased relative, John, was raised for his entire childhood in several orphanages in the area of New York City.
John finished formal schooling, went to the seminary as an adult, later completed graduate training, became an Episcopal priest, married, served from 1942-1946 as a Prisoner Of War in the Philippine Islands under Japanese domination, eventually came back to the United States, continuing his ministry until his death in 2011, at age 99. He was heralded by colleagues, family members and friends as one of the nicest, kindest human beings.
When he married the widowed sister of my wife, after both of his previous wives had died of cancer or heart failure, he was 20-plus years her senior. He played tennis into his 90s, as well as golf.
In spite of his beginning, he left a legacy of love, survival, strength and strong character for many of us to follow.
His example may be considered rare among those raised as he was as a child. You would be amazed at how many of the many hundreds of people I have been privileged to help whose stories may not include some of the situations like the ones cited here, but have overcome — that’s the word, overcome —  the potentially devastating effects of what might be considered inadequate parenting and less than a healthy childhood.
In the first example cited, the older of three children had a church that reached out to him, a youth pastor and wife, another couple not professionally on staff, but volunteering themselves to the youth program who spent much time parenting some of the youth. That father-substitute was so admired and appreciated that he became the best-man at that wedding of that child.
So, what am I saying in this article? Well, I did not plan to cover the whole subject in one session, because another part of this same subject is the questions brought up when another child is raised by what seems like good, caring, loving parents, and has a healthy overall childhood, and we read in the paper that the child has been involved with delinquent, even criminal, behavior. Even, as an adult, behaves totally opposite of how the parents have raised him/her, with patterns which are usually unexpected.
In conclusion, if and when you become aware or acquainted with a child who may need for you to assist in helping him or her experiencing some normal/healthy patterns of life, lend a hand to that child, without overly indulging him or her with too much attention. The wonderful, overall results may be immensely satisfying to you and others, especially the child.
The first example is well known to us as the husband of our daughter, the father of five of our six grandchildren, and was our church pastor for more than a decade.
May God bless you as you consider these things. For more information, call 477-2818.