Do you remember much about your past? Are you like me and remember particular moments? I can remember flashes of events from my childhood rather than an overarching narrative. That’s pretty normal, I’m told; “childhood amnesia” is something that happens to us all, where a lot of information is filed so deep in the filing cabinets of our brain that we’ll hardly ever retrieve them. Except maybe as flashes of deja vu.
Now think about the nature of the memories you can remember; are they good / bad / indifferent? We will all retain strong memories, but we all know that “strong” doesn’t have to be “good”; I can remember the surge of joy when I read the email stating that I was going to be published for the first time, but I also remember the moment I learnt my grandmother had died. Intensity of emotion will often be the thing that helps imprint a particularly strong memory onto our consciousness for the rest of our lives.
Children in care had a wider complexity of memories to “choose” from – although, of course, it’s hardly a choice for them. They form memories based on the experiences they have had, and often they’re not very good; hence them coming into care in the first place.
It’s then reliant on them telling you – the new people in their lives – what those memories are; for that to happen, they need to trust you. I’ve had to earn that trust with my son; he needed to know, from a very early moment, that he could trust me with anything he chose to share. I wanted him to feel that he could share things with me, both good and bad; I wanted him to know that ours was not a superficial relationship.
That would only come with time, of course; I needed to earn the confidence that came with him thinking I was worthy of his memories lodged in his brain. I needed to show that I was open to hearing what he said; sharing with me moments of when he’d had fun (mostly centred around his foster carers) and when he’d not (centred around his life before that); as with a lot of children who have been placed in care, his memories were very much placed into two camps.
Like most people, irrespective of whether they were once in care or not, you often prefer to downplay the negative memories and concentrate on the positive. That doesn’t, of course, stop the negative memories from existing, and it’s important we find a way of acknowledging them – before they develop a strength of their own and begin to take over your conscious mind.
But helping my eight-year-old son with that is difficult; he does have negative memories, and he doesn’t want to remember them. He will occasionally member one, but not very often; he knows that I know a lot of them, and he occasionally tests me out to make sure I’m still telling the truth. Of course I am, but he needs to learn that in his own way, so whatever he needs to do. I suspect that, almost by knowing that I know (I learnt a lot from his social worker and foster carers), he seems a little more relaxed. I hope so; if I can carry some of his burden, then I’m delighted to. He’s eight; he deserves a childhood, innocent of any other worries and concerns. There’s plenty of time for that when he’s older.
We’ll soon be going through The Teenage Years, where so many more firsts will come up – and beyond that into adulthood. I want to ensure he feels safe in knowing that I will help him with anything he needs and wants to share; how will I succeed will be up to him to decide. If he reads all this in the next ten years, then I’m sure he’ll be letting me know.