Emotional Roots: Can You Go Home Again?

Do you long to go home…to your childhood home? This is the stuff both dreams and nightmares are made of. Childhood is where you developed the foundation of who you are. The foundation that rocked your cradle and kept you warm and dry, also set your emotional and physical sense of place. Going back to our roots is a popular adage that authors write about, and troubadours croon about. There is an old Jackson Browne song that comes to mind, “Looking Into You.” It chronicles his experience of going back home:

Well, I looked into a house I once lived in
Around the time I first went on my own
When the roads were as many as the places I had dreamed of
And my friends and I were one
Now the distance is done and the search has begun
I’ve come to see where my beginnings have gone.

A recent EcoNesting article about heirloom items at home brought up some nostalgic stirrings about my own childhood home. Recently, I had the opportunity to drive by the house where I grew up. After my mom moved a few years ago, there’s been no reason to go back there. But on the way to visit a friend, I decided to get off the highway and check out the old neighborhood. Even though I hadn’t lived there for over 25 years, just driving around the corner had a familiar feel. The street used to be buzzing with activity. Now it seemed quiet. The house looked quieter too. It was more like looking at a snapshot–kind of surreal.

Have you been back to visit your childhood home? Or, maybe you moved back into that house. I couldn’t find any definitive statistics on the number of people who end up living back in the home they grew up in. But I did find an Associated Press article, which offers some of the reasons people do just that: “For some, it’s a good deal or a way to honor parents’ attachment to the home. Others simply feel the pull of the place where they grew up and sense…an opportunity to reconnect and sort of find oneself.” The article also suggested that “[p]eople who inherit a house can find themselves blindsided by memories and unable to part with their parents’ things. Those who buy the family home face the balancing act of putting their stamp on it without alienating Mom and Dad.” Can you relate to any of these feelings when you revisit your old home?

How about the interior design of the home? As a way to connect to your past, can you put an old stamp on a new home? I grew up in a home that was caring and fun. My parents decorating style was welcoming, comfortable and child-friendly. While not obvious to me at the time, they thought carefully about the objects they brought into the home. I have been bringing more and more of that nurturing feeling into my nest lately. While I can’t recreate what once was (and wouldn’t want to), decorating from that mid-century modern period feels right for now. Not a shrine to childhood, but more a convergence of style and emotion.

Emotional roots are a powerful reminder of where you came from and who you are now. For some, inheriting their family home brings it all home to roost. For others, family heirlooms are the connective thread. Others find a totally new separate sense of place is the healthiest to come home to.

How about you? Have you gone back to your childhood home? Do you live in your childhood home? Is your current home inspired by your emotional past?

Ronnie Citron-Fink lives in New York with her husband, two children (when they come home to the nest), two dogs and a cat. Ronnie is a teacher and a writer. She has been a contributing writer for Family Fun magazine. She currently writes articles about education and home design. Her writings are in four books including Family Fun Home and Some Delights of the Hudson Valley.


Joy Wong
Joy W7 years ago

I had a very sad, sad childhood, I hated it and I don' t ever want to go back to that home.You see, I was an adopted child and my stepmother just made life one big hell.

Janice P.
Janice P7 years ago

To S L Hawley ~ I can feel your pain, for it is mine, too. My father died 5 years ago, and my mother died in December, 2009. I am an only child. I took care of my parents for the last 13 years of their life in that house. I understand exactly what you mean when you say you cannot bear to part with any of your parents' things. It is SO painful. I cannot do it, although I will have to sell that house at least within the next year or so. It is becoming very costly to maintain, while I live in my own house. I lived in that house from the age of 2, and so much of my life and most of my memories are there. I hope that we can both find some peace in dealing with our similar situations.

Teresa P.
Teresa P7 years ago

I moved back into the family home 16 years ago after my children were raised and I became divorced. It took awhile for it to feel like home again but I wouldn't give up the 14 years I had with my mother before she passed.

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p8 years ago

being passed around a lot as a child,i don`t actually have any emotional roots, i feel at home pretty much anywhere finding likeminded people.

S L Hawley
S Hawley8 years ago

I can't believe I'm just now reading this. My mom passed away Sept 21, 2009. My brother and I have been dealing with the aftermath of her life as a "super pack rat." She almost never threw anything out. She had paperwork from the 70's and even our clothes, shoes, toys etc. We just now got it cleaned out and put on the market yesterday. I'm devastated when I walk through the empty house. I feel as if we've dismantled everything our mother ever was. I want to keep the house as a rental, but my brother needs the money and I can't afford to buy him out. What is ironic is that my childhood really wasn't all that pleasant and my mom wasn't a great mother either. I never thought this would upset me like it has. She was still my mom and we had made our peace years ago about the past. I have alot of her things including all the furniture that was in her bedroom, but it isn't the same. I know in my mind that it's all just stuff and the house just a building, but it was HER stuff and OUR home. I hope someday that I can learn to let go, not of her or the memories, but of my attachment to things that are a mere representation of a life and not a real part of her spirit.

Ted F.
Ted F.8 years ago

My home was special for me first and foremost because of my family. It was modest and my mother made it nurturing and secure. But secondarily, it was the neighborhood it was located in that had the greatest impact on me. We had a park across the street that became my private escape to nature, my school was just around the corner, and the corner grocer, bakery, meat market and vegetable stand was less than a block away. Even the bus stop was only half a block away. Everything we needed could be reached by walking. When I last visited the neighborhood, everything was as it had been, except for the corner grocers. They had all gone out of business and now, everyone in the neighborhood had to drive to the BIG super-market in another neighborhood. We need to find ways to bring that walkable convenience back so that every trip for just a loaf of bread is not dependent on a declining resource - oil. Winston Churchill once said that "We shape our buildings and afterwards, our buildings shape us." To that I would add we also need to shape our neighborhoods better than we have been and hopefully, then our neighborhoods will help shape us.

Susan Goodson
Susan Goodson8 years ago

Home is where your family is - especially one's parents. I have two home towns - ten miles apart, neither having more than 250 residents so it is possible to know everyone. From first memory to 7th grade; then from 7th grade on. I am the oldest of nine children and all except my daughter (VA) and one nephew (CA) live within 150 miles of each other. It doesn't matter whether we go to the largest home in the family or rent the local hall when we get together, there are now 62 persons in three generations (Grandma made the 4th generation until 10 years ago and all but the youngest remember her) and we're happy.
The home town is sad - a Post Office, part-time restaurant, Senior Diner lunches at the local hall, and two churches. Not one car is parked on "Main" after dark. There are only a few children (babies - Senior High).
But once in Mom's home (Dad's in the closest nursing home 20 miles away), everything is much the same - loved and told "it's time to go to bed" (I'm 63!). Siblings call often, E, & facebook.
We have whole family get-togethers in the summer, at Thanksgiving, and at Christmas. It's very easy to fall into the same roles we had as children, but we're getting to know each other as adults/grandparents and to stay close to the next generations. We all try to remember hugs and "I love you" with every call and every good-bye. After Dad's stroke, we know how easy it is to lose that special touch.
I live 100 miles away but we never left.

Maresa T.
Maresa T8 years ago

Returning to the old hometown after many years may very well be a disorienting visit, especially in areas that have experienced urban expansion.

I live less than 20 miles from the childhood home and have visited the area hundreds, if not thousands of times. Because of this the change has been gradual. If I were to return after a 40 year absence it would be painful, I think.

Even so, it can be a melancholy experience as familiar places are torn down. Two of the three homes I lived in have been razed. One site is now the local insurance office and the other is part of the parking lot for a large discount store. Perhaps there are places that maintain their "history" but the American Midwest where I grew up is not such a place.



Amanda M.
Amanda M8 years ago

Ran out of space...also have that feeling about old family places like the beach community where we spent family vacations when I was a child, or my grandparents' house in western South Carolina. The beach community used to be this cute rustic place, but then it got "discovered" after Hurricane Hugo, and the place got overrun by condos and McMansions. My uncle sold his beach house there while I was in college, and he and my aunt now have one on the next island up. The old family estate on the mainland where he and my aunt used to live has also been sold (I was mad about that because that land's been in the family for centuries), and I haven't been back to my grandparents' house since my grandfather died nine years ago (partly due to my husband's work hours; what vacation time he does get we spend fixing up our house and doing things with the kids).

I've moved 14 times in 14 years as of 2006, and now that we're in our permanent house, I finally feel at home again. Sometimes I'll be out on the deck or driving around the area, and I'll get a flashback image of being at my grandparents' house as a kid-the area feels that similar. Those moments are comforting to me and help me know that I'm where I belong now. It's a wonderful feeling.