9 signs that your childhood wasn’t as happy as your parents made out

When we speak of childhood, we are often told to be grateful that we have food to eat and a roof over our heads.

This is one perspective, absolutely. It’s not a wrong one, either. 

But one can argue that there is a lot more that parents can offer a child emotionally and mentally that goes far beyond tangible things. 

Some might even say it’s a parent’s responsibility to be able to guide their child emotionally. 

It’s not always easy to be an emotional presence, as a lot of parents would attest, they often have no energy left after working all day to provide those important tangible things. 

However, complete emotional neglect and even deep damage can often go overlooked when we look back on our childhoods and stop at “I’m just thankful we had the basics”. 

What are some of the hints your childhood might have been lacking in important aspects of parental support? Read these 9 signs:

1) Your parents were barely around

Being raised with parents who weren’t present can sometimes have negative effects on a young child. The child may grow up feeling unwanted, uncared for, or forgotten by their parents. 

This can even be seen when one parent is present, and the other isn’t. It can sometimes create a longing for the parent who isn’t present, an idealization of the parent, or even resentment. 

This can be a subconscious effect that shapes your thoughts, decisions and the way you feel about yourself.

2) You felt emotionally alone 

Maybe your parent(s) was or wasn’t physically present. But if they were not emotionally there for you, this can sometimes be as isolating as not having parents physically around.

If you remember being a young child and feeling like you had no one to speak to or turn to, no one you felt you could trust or listen to your feelings, your childhood may not have been as happy as your parents made out. 

When you’re growing up, you go through all of your firsts. This can come with some intense emotions.

Having a supportive parent figure to help you navigate this complex world of emotions goes a long way in helping you develop deeper emotional intelligence and does wonders for your adulthood. 

So if you felt alone emotionally as a child, you probably had to learn to navigate these times alone, or maybe even end up avoiding your emotions.

3) You didn’t feel supported in your interests

I loved art, books, and writing ever since I was a kid. My parents didn’t have a true appreciation for any.

They would politely compliment the things I’d show them – but I always felt it wasn’t coming from a real sense of interest and I would eventually stop showing them my work.

Sometimes, I’d catch offhand comments like, “Art is pretty, but it doesn’t make the world go around”, which was discouraging.

Yes – sometimes, we get parents who just don’t encourage our pursuits in the way we’d like. It’s not the worst thing to have by any means. 

But it did require me to go through many years of self-doubt around my creative passions. It was a journey to heal a lot of wounds, learn to value my gifts, and give myself the validation I sought. 

Although I am grateful that I had the opportunity to cultivate the self-appreciation I have today, sometimes I can’t help but wonder if my childhood would have been happier if my parents had been more interested in what I wanted to do.

Do you resonate with this sign?

4) You didn’t/ don’t feel accepted for who you really are

dont feel accepted 9 signs that your childhood wasn’t as happy as your parents made out

Do you feel accepted for who you are by your parents or family?

Or do you hide parts of yourself, in order to keep up an illusion for them? 

This sign is similar to the previous one, but it goes beyond interest. It encompasses all of who you are: your values, your identity, beliefs, or even your purpose.

If you felt you had to hide any of these parts of yourself since childhood, it probably had a deep effect on you that you may not have realized at the time. 

It can teach us to hide or be ashamed of who we are, even as we go into adulthood. 

True happiness largely comes from a freedom to be yourself, and be accepted for it by those closest to you. 

5) There were often comments about your appearance 

Sometimes, families can normalize making negative comments about children’s looks from a young age.

Enduring constant comments about weight gain, weight loss, skin issues, and other appearance-driven things can have a profound impact on our sense of security and self-worth

It often forces us to place our value in our appearance. Although appearance plays some role in life, there are also far more constructive things to focus on – especially when you are a child.

Too many children quietly suffer from feeling shame for their appearance, which they can’t control, which can cause a negative feedback loop in other areas of their lives like lacking confidence in their abilities. 

So if you experienced this as a child, you aren’t alone. Explore how this might have affected your self-worth and seek to heal it through practices such as affirmations, self-love, and valuing your inner beauty.

6) There was sibling favoritism

Being treated unfairly by parents is something a child can definitely feel and internalize. 

Even if you are the ‘favorite’ child, it can have negative effects on how you perceive yourself in the world.

But if you are not the favorite child, it may be even more difficult. It can affect your relationship with your siblings, causing jealousy, anger, and unresolved feelings between you – when the one who is truly responsible is the parent. 

Being raised in comparison to siblings creates a habit of feeling unworthy, constantly comparing yourself to others in life, and maybe never feeling ‘good enough’

The only lasting remedy for this is to practice healthy self-love and to offer yourself the love and validation that you didn’t receive.

7) You never felt like you could reach the expectations set for you

Being a child and constantly facing parental expectations is extremely strenuous.

Whether it’s getting a grade A on a subject you dislike, becoming athletic, a doctor, or the next prodigal Beethoven – parents with these kinds of expectations often are trying to fulfill their own unmet dreams through their children. 

Sometimes, it continues even into adulthood after you’ve already done A, B, C, and D… When will you get married? Or have children?

You might have noticed, this has adverse consequences on a person who is simply trying to figure out who they are. 

Moreover, it doesn’t often create a healthy parent-child relationship where the child can be themselves.

If you relate to this sign, your childhood may not have been as happy as it could have been. I encourage you to ask yourself if you are living the life you truly want to live now, and also, what would it take for you to do so?

Your own dreams matter most in this life, and it’s never too late to start chasing them.

8) Your parents didn’t have a healthy dynamic

parents didnt have a healthy dynamic 9 signs that your childhood wasn’t as happy as your parents made out

Sometimes, parents who aren’t supporting each other’s well-being, stay together because of their children, familiarity, abusive patterns, or financial reasons.

This could manifest in constant conflict, avoiding each other, or having a loveless relationship. 

Regardless of whether they did their best as parents, being around an unhealthy relationship dynamic can have a deep psychological impact on a child. 

Your parents’ dynamic is often your first example of a relationship in life.

It imprints on your mind and can affect how you approach relationships later in life.

9) You were often criticized 

Sometimes, parents can have good intentions by trying to help us become better people – but if the way it’s communicated is not with empathy or encouragement, it can come off as criticism.

As a child, your mind is sensitive to your parent’s needs. 

If you felt under constant criticism by them, it most likely shaped your sense of self-worth negatively.

Final thoughts

Reflecting on the signs that your childhood may not have been as happy as your parents made out is an essential step in understanding your past and its impact on your present self. 

It’s important to remember that these signs are not meant to assign blame toward them, but rather to promote self-awareness and healing.

Childhood experiences, whether positive or challenging, play a significant role in shaping our identities, beliefs, and emotional well-being.

Healing from a less-than-happy childhood may involve seeking therapy, practicing self-love and self-acceptance, setting healthy boundaries, and learning to prioritize your own well-being. 

It’s never too late to embrace your true self, pursue your dreams, and find true happiness within yourself. Where your parents may have fallen short, you have the power to heal your inner child and offer yourself the grace you always deserved.

Picture of Shela Riva

Shela Riva

Shela Riva is a Thai-Swiss freelance writer, artist, energy mentor and co-creator of Jaiyen Eco Resort, a creative retreat space in Thailand. She is deeply passionate about our incredible ability to transform and is dedicated to helping each person realize the power within themselves, whether through her writing, empowering custom art pieces, one-on-one work or in-person retreats.

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