At one point, my eldest daughter looks shocked and says: “When will Grandpa grow up?” Younger seems to agree. As I prepare to answer, the wife often jumps in to add that girls have a point; That I should grow up.
My girls are still in school. What paradox is at play here?
The consensus at home seems to be that my anger and my tendency to get angry at small pee are part of what I need to “grow up.”
It got me thinking about ways of looking at childhood versus adulthood. Don’t lose touch with the inner child, we’re told. It stems from the idea that children are naturally curious, innocent and know how to live in the moment and enjoy their freedom.
Adults who lose touch with that inner child, according to this story, risk being miserable, and all around well blind.
Jenny Brown, a social scientist, researcher and author of the deeply researched book, Growing Yourself Up (2012), offers much to think about in this regard. The problem with popular inner-child stories, she says, is that children are driven by impulses, even when they are happy, curious, and innocent. “A child’s world revolves around finding the fastest way to be comfortable, nurtured and satisfied by others.”
Simply put, most of the behavior of the average child is to attract and satisfy attention. When considered from an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense. A child is physically and emotionally vulnerable and needs all the “care” he can secure for himself. Adults don’t. They have to make their own way.
So what does it mean to “hold on to the inner child” and when does it “need to grow up”? Reflecting from this perspective, I doubt that the children’s comments surrounding my behavior in certain situations have merit. I lose my temper on the road and hit motorists who can’t hear or care about me. I refuse to interact with people around me when I feel lightheaded.
How does an adult like me grow up? Brown has some interesting suggestions. Every adult, she says, has an element of the child in them. These elements will affect the adult’s behavior. Most people don’t take the time to deal with their inner child issues (and we all have some), because it’s hard work. And so it is that we do not grow into full adulthood.
When we allow our inner child to dictate our actions, we move out of impulsiveness or petulance, seeking attention in an effort to minimize discomfort. There are deeper elements to a disaffected inner child. Impulsivity, codependency and an extreme urge to fit in can all manifest in adulthood.
It all has its roots in the child’s evolutionary and inherent drive to survive. So growing up inevitably involves letting go, mainly out of fear that the world won’t provide what we need.
Once this step is taken, we can find the strength to respond to adversity calmly, to address problems with solutions rather than complaints, to make mistakes with accountability rather than blame. Instead of trying to mold our behavior to fit the groups around us, we can define ourselves by what we believe.
We can become well-adjusted adults who are unaffected by the behavior of those around us, and who know that the world has its own rhythm.
I will be an adult and admit that my daughters are right.
(Charles Assisi is co-founder of Founding Fuel and co-author of Foundation Impact)