Why is Human Childhood So Hard? A Big Reason is in Our Reproductive Biology

By Rachel Puryear

If you get to know people well enough for them to tell you – truthfully – about their early lives, you will notice that a lot of people have hard childhoods. Maybe you had one, too. It’s extremely common for people to have childhood trauma, at least to some degree.

You might even say that childhood is inherently difficult – although some have much harder circumstances than others, and some also have a lot more countervailing good fortune than others to help offset or mitigate the hard factors.

Why is human childhood difficult? One reason, at least, may lie in our biology.

Shadows on the sidewalk of a couple walking closely together, and holding hands. By Robert V. Ruggiero.

As humans, our reproductive and hormonal systems mature decades ahead of fully developed mental and emotional maturity. Our puberty cycles sunrise beginning typically in our tween years, but we usually don’t become adults with substantial perspective and wisdom until (if ever) around the time our prime fertile years are beginning to sunset.

Women/people with uteruses have a harder time limit regarding their reproductive timelines. However, men/people with testicles also have increased fertility problems with age, as well as practical time limits on reproducing.

When we’re young, and we don’t yet know ourselves well enough to understand what we want in life, we listen to our hormones. They’re in the driver’s seat telling us to go for partners we find “hot”, and who can offer us status and wealth and other trappings.

Our hormones want us to reproduce, and have a way of overriding our logical thinking.

When we’re older, though – often following one or more broken relationships, and/or ones we’ve resigned ourselves to, and maybe with children from those – we start to get to know ourselves better, and realize that we really want something different.

Our minds and hearts then want partners to bond with, to share our lives with, and to have companionship with.

We come to appreciate the importance of shared empathy, intellectual stimulation, and close friendship in a partnership later in life (most of us, at least). This realization is life-changing, and opens up far better opportunities for us.

The reason for this flawed human design is that enabling people to reproduce sooner – before a harsh life could kill them first – helped keep the species alive before the modern age.

The result, though, is that humans are strongly driven to mate and reproduce long before they’re usually old enough to be aware of, let alone critically examine and avoid repeating, their own childhood trauma.

Thus, childhood traumas frequently repeat themselves, generation after generation. Sometimes, elders will see what is happening, and recognize the cycle repeating itself – but it may be fruitless to try to help repair the situation.

This is, however, where grandparents can be really important – they are adults in children’s lives who do have a lot more maturity and perspective than they did when they were much younger, and can be a key source of guidance for their grandchildren.

Unfortunately, though, that doesn’t always fix the problem. Sometimes, especially nowadays, grandparents and their grandchildren live far apart, and/or modern life can make it difficult to see one another often.

Sometimes, though, people don’t become better and more thoughtful people as they get older – instead, they just learn to hide their flaws better, and may become even more spiteful. People who were very abusive and cruel when they were young, as opposed to simply immature and naive, tend to stay that way their whole lives – and if this is the case, they will just reinforce generational trauma rather than help to assuage it.

So, this is a big reason why childhood tends to be difficult, and why trauma – bigger or smaller – tends to persist across the generations.

There are definitely other juicy factors, though, which could also be explored – and these will be addressed in some future posts.


Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to acknowledging our species’ design flaws, and doing the best we can to work around it. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you have not done so already. xoxo

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