Do we ever grow up? As a ‘grown woman’ with a husband, two kids and a dog I should be grown up, but I don’t feel like I am. When I’m dressed for work I tell people ‘I’m wearing my ‘grown up’ clothes’ and if my children scream, unable to cope with being the one in charge, I often just join in.
A study asked 2000, twenty somethings what life events would make them feel like an adult and 63% answered, “having a child.” On the other side of the coin there are those of us who have passed through that critical life stage and still feel like we’re 18.
I recently spent a weekend in the Alps for the wedding of a close friend who captures the essence of childlike charm (see photo): referring to kids as her little buddies, as a snowboarding instructor her job is the epitome of fun and her life in general is quirky and colourful. But she didn’t want kids at her wedding. Not because she doesn’t like them, but because (although I am presuming as I haven’t asked) they would take away the fun. When children are around we have to be more sensible, watching what we say and how we behave. With no distractions everyone could let their hair down without having to worry about the consequences. The result was a weekend full of laughter!
I came back down to earth with a thud on my return home. Relieved about school starting: a release from the constant need to referee, the opportunity to get on with my work and the chance to just ‘be myself’, in reality it brought the reminder that having kids is not just about ‘behaving ourselves’ when they are there. It’s about a myriad of other responsibilities: how they behave, curriculum events that need to be attended, teachers to talk to, forms to be filled in, homework to be completed (I never enjoyed doing my own let alone coaching someone else to do theirs), items to be remembered: piano music, hockey sticks, pencils, dictionaries, water bottles…… The stark contrast with my weekend away led me to ask my husband if I could resign, he told me that wasn’t an option.
Maybe the need to be a big kid is exaggerated in me; I’m the youngest by 5 years growing up with a big brother who let me get away with more than the average little sister. Add in 4 stepsiblings and I’m the youngest of 6, which inevitably embedded the expectation that I was never ‘the responsible one’. I also report as ‘mischievous’ and ‘excitable’ on one well-used measure of personality, neither of which point toward particularly adult behaviour. To that ends I probably also associate with friends who are also a little more ‘child like’ in nature, so maybe I just don’t fit the norm.
From a theoretical perspective I’m not considered normal – ‘feeling like a child inside an adult’s body’ is explained as “various ‘child parts’ not being fully integrated into our adult self.” Dr. Leon Seltzer, a clinical psychologist from California says that “when present-day circumstances tap into old, unresolved doubts or fears….we’ll experience ourselves in the same way we did in the past.”
But as a psychologist focused on ‘normal’ as opposed to ‘abnormal’ psychology, my professional opinion differs. While there are people who suffer from traumatic experiences, the childlike nature I’m referring to is more about curiosity, awe and well, just fun. I don’t believe I’m alone in feeling like I’m years younger than reality would suggest and resent having to let go of that.
But although everyone sometimes feels like a ‘Big Kid’, there is a helpful and an unhelpful version of this, being childlike or childish has its differences. I see numerous senior leaders behaving childishly: unable to manage their feelings (e.g. joining in when your kids are screaming – oops), emotionally unaware, selfish and narrow-minded. Where as I encourage leaders to be more childlike because having an open mind, curiosity and wonder enables far better outcomes. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon said:
“You have to say, ‘Wait a second. Why are we doing it this way? Could it be better? Could it be different?’ That kind of curiosity, that explorer’s mind, that childlike wonder – that’s what makes an inventor.”
And this doesn’t prevent being adult, leaders noted for their wisdom, such as Nelson Mandela are also known as people who encapsulate this e.g. Mandela’s cousin said he “had a childlike spirit, even in his old age” (Nozolile Mtirara).
The positive outcomes of a childlike nature don’t just apply to leaders. Aside from the fun of being childlike, a youthful outlook has been shown to ward off cardiovascular disease and results in health habits that prolong life. Besides – it generally just makes life an awful lot more enjoyable. So while I personally span a bit of both childish and childlike – there’s nothing wrong with feeling like a Big Kid in a Grown Up Body.
As always – any thoughts or comments are welcomed…How old do you feel?
Links and References
Terracciano, A., McCrae, R. R., Brant, L. J., & Costa, P. r. (2005). Hierarchical linear modeling analyses of the NEO-PI-R Scales in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Psychology and Aging, 20(3), 493-506. doi:10.1037/0882-7922.214.171.1243