Revisiting No. 29 Forest Grove
I recently had a call from a girlfriend excitedly sharing that the home I had lived in for my formative teenage years was up for sale. A wave of nostalgia came over me..good and sad feelings. This was the home I had lived in from 14-24 and a lot had happened in that time. I had celebrated my 16th birthday party there and my 21st. My father had become ill and passed away in that time and I had experienced some very painful years with my older sister.
In researching this piece, I couldn’t find any Australian statistics but in the US, millions of American adults visit a childhood home. Few can anticipate the effect it will have on them. Often serving several important psychological needs, these trips are not intended as visits with people from their past. Rather, those returning to their homes have a strong desire to visit the places that comprised the landscape of their childhood.
Santa Clara University Psychology Professor Jerry Burger found that one third of American adults over the age of the 30 has made a trip to visit a childhood home. There are three primary reasons for the trip:
They want to reconnect with their childhood. 42 percent of people who visit a childhood home say that they couldn’t remember everything from their childhood and that they wanted to return in hopes of jogging their memory and getting back in touch with who they were as a child.
They’re going through some kind of crisis or problem, and they want to reflect on their past. 15 percent of those studied expressed the need to reevaluate how they developed their values and what led them to make the decisions that they made.
They have unfinished business from childhood. 12 percent suffered from some kind of abuse or trauma and thought that returning to the home where they experienced that pain would be therapeutic or bring some kind of closure.
My reason for visiting was to try and remember the person I was at that time and reconnect with how I viewed the world. We had rented the home for ten years and it had continued as a rental property until it went up for sale. Therefore, barely anything had changed. The carpets, bathrooms and kitchen were exactly the same as though we had moved out yesterday. I walked in my old bedroom and recalled the times I had spent with my friends in there listening to LP’s on the turntable, surrounded by my Shaun Cassidy and Leif Garrett posters. This was the room where I had brought my boyfriend home to spend a night with me for the first time when I was 17. I walked into the bathroom and peered out the window and over the fence to the neighbour’s back yard as I had done many times. I sat on the back verandah, close to tears. My father had collapsed in this house in 1987 and after much treatment and heartache, he passed away a year later.
It was the house where we first realized that my older sister was grappling with serious mental health issues. Several times she overdosed and calmly packed an overnight bag and called herself an ambulance. I would be watching a movie and I would answer a knock on the door to find two paramedics standing there asking for her. On one occasion the police were called as she had threatened to self-harm and my parents were so embarrassed to have 3 emergency vehicles with lights flashing out the front of the house. What would the neighbour’s think?
Jerry Burger’s research found that in almost all of the cases, people were glad they returned to the home where they grew up. He did find three exceptions:
When people returned, the house in which they grew up had significantly changed or was no longer there. This was usually very upsetting. Some of these folks wished they had not made the trip.
When they returned in hopes of escaping from their problems and reliving the romanticized memory they had of their childhood, reality sunk in. These people weren’t happy with their lives and thought returning to the place where they had pleasant memories would help make them happier. They quickly realized though that they couldn’t conjure happiness.
Those who returned to work through issues from childhood sometimes didn’t do well. People who had suffered from terrible abuse sometimes couldn’t overcome the painful memories that returned when they were back in their childhood home. Burger recommends people revisiting the past to confront a traumatic period in their lives to do so with the help of a professional counselor.
The research is now published in the book, Returning Home: Reconnecting with our Childhoods.
Have you visited a childhood home and if so, was it a positive or negative experience? I’d love to hear your stories below in our comments section.