How to Turn the Problems of Childhood into the Virtues of Adulthood

Published 11:56 am Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Acamea Deadwiler’s earliest memories are the two weeks when she, at age 6, and her brother, 5, nearly starved to death as her mother suffered a mental breakdown.

Her stepfather, a Navy man, was away for extended periods, leaving Acamea alone with her brother and mother, who was convinced the outside world was out to harm the family. Deadwiler’s mother kept the three shut in their home and, eventually, restricted all food for fear of poisoning.

“I often think about what I’d say if I could write a letter to my 6-year-old self,” says Deadwiler, author of the memoir, “Life, Love, and Lack Thereof” (www.

“It would begin: ‘I would love to tell you not to be afraid but, actually, there is much to fear. Things will get worse, much worse, before they will get better. But, they do get better eventually. Somehow, despite every justifiable reason to be weak, you grow up to be strong. Though you will never understand, you will endure. You will be alright.’ ”

Deadwiler says children raised in families affected by mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence or extreme poverty, can turn the disadvantages of childhood into the strengths of adulthood.

“Don’t look at the things that happened to you as baggage,” she says. “Instead, look at the admirable qualities they helped shape and focus on building those.”

Here are four you should look for:

• Independence: When you feel like you have no one to turn to, you turn to yourself, she says. Children who suffer abuse, advertently or inadvertently, or who are neglected, often guide themselves into a new way of constructively viewing and participating in society. These children are resourceful and adaptable and are not merely products of how they’re treated by their parents. Deadwiler plunged into constructive activities like reading, writing and basketball.

• Perseverance and endurance: Some kids are sheltered their entire lives and it’s not until they’re away from the safety of their parents’ protective wing that they learn the trials of life. Those who have suffered while at home, however, are often optimistic about what the world has to offer them. They’ve already suffered and have developed the mental endurance that typically comes later in life for others.

• Outside-the-box perspective: Children who do not succumb to the emotional and mental pitfalls of bad parenting break the mold by seeking another way. Very often, this becomes a life habit that can lead to innovation in all aspects of life. “I really don’t believe in easy answers when it comes to how someone is supposed to live their life, other than to focus on the wellbeing of oneself, and others,” she says.

• How not to treat others: “The only reason we have baggage is because we choose to carry it with us,” Deadwiler says. To say that an adult’s mistreatment of another is due to the baggage of their childhood, then, is to needlessly abdicate personal responsibility. In fact, after having been mistreated, she says, this is all the more reason to treat others better.

About the author:

Acamea Deadwiler is a journalist who has covered the WNBA and has written for several publications. She received her Master of Science in sport administration from Valparaiso University and is currently working on her Master of Arts in media and journalism from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. She is the author of several books.