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Children’s Literature and Therapy

I read a lot of children’s literature and really enjoy it.  Lately, I’ve been asking myself why.

I’ve come to understand that children’s literature more closely represents life than the myths we’re most often raised believing.  Whether our own family reflects myths, such as the idyllic family, or not, we still often accept them as normative societal experience, when really the opposite is true.  We are educated at school and exposed to culture that represents the two-parent, most likely heterosexual, nuclear, well-adjusted, nurturing family as the majority experience.  Children who have parents who do not reside together are told by teachers that their home is “broken”, accompanied by the expected sadness.  In response to this, one of my friends says, “Our family was broken.  My mother fixed it by putting my father out”.

So, in most of our lives, we are bombarded with these beliefs, reinforced by media and popular culture, and when we come to know that our family doesn’t conform, we believe ours is the only one.  Then we suffer in silence, shame and isolation, longing for a “normal” family.

The truth is that the vast majority of families have issues.  We know that large numbers of children suffer through physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse and neglect.  Many live in poverty.  Many live in silence.  Many quietly resolve to change their lives.

Some end up in prison, some in mental health facilities, some on the street.  Some struggle painfully with the fallout of not having those early needs met, or being violated.  Some walk a tightrope every day.  Others blame themselves and keep the secrets.  Still, others put on a brave face, while they die inside.  Some live in denial, while others perpetuate the cycle.

What I like about children’s books is that life is hard.  The children are not perfect.  They fight against the odds and succeed, often by creating alliances in unlikely places.  They have trust issues, deal with fear, setbacks, and flashbacks, and don’t always win on the first try.

But they keep fighting to get to a better place.

.... and that’s what therapy and life are about, to me.

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