When you’re a child, that’s supposed to be your main priority. There are few responsibilities and most of them revolve either around homework or a daily chore (which at the time can seem unbearable, until you realize that a one page report on Thanksgiving was the simplest essay you’d be asked to complete in your life). Fathers and mothers are in charge of shouldering the burdens of adulthood. They ensure your safety, your well-being, your health and how much you are loved. You should be loved as a child wholly, completely, and without reservation. There should be no stipulations on how you are treated or how much opportunity you are given based upon matters out of your control like gender or identity.
You learn this as an adult, but when you are a child and you’re being mistreated the world only seems unfair. Labels get put upon you as being “the bad seed,” “troublemaker,” or “difficult.” These words later become “slut,” “asshole,” or “bitch” once truly bad language becomes acceptable. What do any of these words even mean? I don’t want to excuse bad behavior but unless they are medically psychotic what is the purpose of calling a child out on their mistakes and turning a blind eye to the cause? You can distance yourself from the root of the problem but there almost always is a cause.
Being forced to make adult decisions when you’re a child means you have to learn how the world works with your hands tied behind your back and blindfolded. No one is going to give you the right answers, few are going to be willing to take you seriously. Your judgments might not always be sound, but good luck finding someone who will critically listen to you. Most of the time you end up making your own mistakes time and time again lending, at the very least, yourself a sense of accountability. There’s no one to rely on besides yourself. You become quick with thought, and you learn how to be deceptive to an advantage. No you are not the Artful Dodger but you do learn how to survive and what that survival means as you work towards something larger than your peers ever really dreamed of.
For me it was moving abroad, as if all my problems and their solutions lay over the Atlantic. I thought of it as a safe haven where nothing could harm or discourage me from becoming the best version of myself I could be. Being desperately suicidal as well, it was a literal lifeline that meant I would have a reason to live if only I could escape my family and my home. I worked harder, and in a different way, from how my classmates did throughout high school. I had a part time job that regularly turned into a full time job with the extra shifts I took on to save money for school and a plane ticket.
My parents decided by the time I was 14 that I could provide mostly for myself. I paid for my own meals, my clothes, school supplies, and any other expenses that they felt no longer responsible for. It taught me how to manage my finances as well as how to live within a strict budget. It also made me feel anxiety every time I craved a taco or wanted to go to the movies with friends. Would this 99 cents or $10 lead me to be $10 short a year from now when I had to book my flights? No one was going to extend a friendly hand—my mother refused to hold a graduation party for me partly because my father had squandered her bank account and also because she told me she didn’t see the merit in asking her relatives to finance my education.
Every other week my bank account would deplete with the money my mother withdrew to pay their marital debts. Since I was under the age of 18, I needed to share my Chase account with a legal guardian and there were no other choices. Once, after saving an extraneous amount from my budget for my senior prom, I was left with a declined debit card and had to call a friend to pick me up from the salon with money to pay for my manicure. Frivolous I know, but I was horribly ashamed that I had had to call a close friend to save the day because my parents with their salaried positions within the school district chose to pay for hockey tournaments and psychic readings instead of paying the electric bill. From this I learned how to plan for unexpected emergencies.
I learned not to trust anyone. Looking back I believe the time I should have been dating, I was too busy strategically planning the days ahead. Get up at five in the morning before the rest of the household to get ready for school in peace. Take the bus to school and then come home to lock myself in my bedroom to avoid my father’s critical verbal abuse. Dodge corridors to avoid interaction, stay silent, go to sleep. In between I planned how to get back and forth to work. When left stranded without a car, I’d try to walk the distance first. If too far away I had a list of friends or work acquaintances who would sometimes help.
Every day was filled with struggle, uncertainty, and doubt. Doubt that I could make it another day without completely giving up. I was scared to think of what my life would be like in the next 10 years if I couldn’t succeed in this. I let men—well boys, they were only 18 after all—touch me sexually, still keeping them at an arm’s distance. It was a give and take of me not really caring much about having a boyfriend while they got the satisfaction of not having the expectation of a relationship at the end of the night like so many young girls they desired. Even now a romantic relationship is at the very bottom of my lengthy and cluttered to-do list. Is that normal?
As an adult I find it difficult to listen to criticism or advice given by people with little to no accomplishments. The people who seem to believe that because of their age they are full of wisdom. The men try to tell me how to marry for security without understanding that early on I was shown that marriage has no value if you’re self-sufficient from the start. The women try to tell me how they overcame the odds to get where they are now, but they’ve achieved this status with a strong support system. They have managed because they’ve had the knowledge that they’ll be able to live comfortably off of their parental or spousal support.
But without that support, you find that you’re more sure of yourself and more confident in your abilities. There will be a great deal of uncertainty still but you’ve become more comfortable riding the tide than floating still in the sea. Carrying an amount of unnecessary baggage from your tumultuous formative years is going to be necessary unfortunately. Trying therapy for depression and anxiety might be necessary, but you’ll also learn to value your alone time. You’ve been given the opportunity to figure out your passions, your ethics, your values before you become an adult so you’ll see the world more clearly defined outside of the gray areas where most are happily able to live out their own truths. Growing up in a reasonable time frame was a sacrifice you may have not been willing to give up, but it will teach you what life has to offer sooner—even though you’re not always ready for it.