That One Adult

photo by C Staff 2010

Having worked with children since the late 80s, I have worked with many professionals across all sectors, at all levels, too. There are so many amazing people working in really valuable roles – many of whom have found healing in being the adult they needed as a child, and did not have access to.  It can be very intense work and downright distressing at times.  It takes people who have their own affairs of their past in order.  Those who are not out to prove themselves to anyone. Those who are psychologically well enough to have capacity for children’s sadness, grief and fear.

Among the amazing people, there are some who have decided, perhaps through insecurity, or perhaps through conceit, that their work is the only work available to children with complexity, which is of any significant worth.  Self-proclaimed heroes, making the difference to children every day, all by themselves. Here is where it becomes very problematic.

Let’s begin with a gentle activity to illustrate this situation.  If your childhood was lacking and you did not have adequate parenting, resources or access to any help with trauma, abuse or neglect, you may look back over that barren landscape of youth and see a prominent adult figure. It may be someone who was in your life for a time, long or short, who made a difference.  Like, a real big, memorable difference.  Maybe it changed your education pathway, maybe it saved you from a life of offending, maybe it inspired you to do the work you do now.  Based on this, we could easily believe that children just need that one adult.  That One Adult.  The coach, the foster mother, the teacher……

I wonder if this is maybe how some professionals come to think that they can be That One Adult for the children they work with.  Perhaps.  But there are some difficulties with this.

  1. Even those who look back and know That One Adult made a huge difference, there will likely have been others on the periphery – others who were only there once, or whose name they never knew, or a stranger who acted anonymously on their behalf. Perhaps even someone supporting That One Adult, a partner or a work-mate, without whom the Adult would have been unable to be there in the way they were.
  2. The African Proverb goes “It Takes a Village To Raise a Child.”  Buying into the belief that you are that one person who can give everything to the child you are working with (or even the children you are raising) negates this beautiful, inclusive concept that life is about relationships.  Everyone we meet may have something to offer which can enrich our journey in some way.  The contributions of others and our safe, healthy relationships with them can shape us in positive ways for the rest of our lives. It is others’ impact on our lives which can teach us, as children, about humanity.
  3. Lastly, surely it is only the child themselves who will be able to look back one day and declare who were the difference makers for them?  Who gave them a boost, who gave them a tenner, who gave them advice, who gave them half their sandwich?  Who believed in them when they had no self-belief?  The person they quietly thought about in bed at night, wishing they were their mother or father, instead of the one they had?  Only when they have some distance between the now and the then will children be able to do this with the perspective it requires.

So, it is not down to any single one of us.  We all need to look after ourselves, to keep doing what we believe in and to see ourselves as part of a collective, a community (or village) of adults who may or may not have been let down as kids ourselves, who want to make sure we do our utmost to help today’s children have safer, nurturing childhoods.  Childhoods like we deserved, and they like they deserve.  A macro-village of difference makers, each doing their part, so that others can do theirs.  Together being a part of something which contributes to children being able to reflect one day, and have a concept of That One Adult which was made up of all our efforts, which made a difference for them in an immeasurable way.