Did you have it better when you were a kid?
I think this will sound familiar:
You are sweating and wheezing over an assignment that’s due in the morning and your mind wanders back to the beauty of childhood.
You start to remember the days of frolicking in the fields. When you could play videogames all day. When building a tree-fort was a legitimate productive exercise. How else would you survive the imaginary oncoming apocalypse?
There’s a lot of reasons why being younger made for a qualitatively better life:
As a child, you had very little responsibility, a bigger imagination and more time to play.
The world is simpler — it’s seen through a softened lens. There might be scary fairytale characters waiting under the bed. But that’s a lot easier to deal with than the idea that your house is going to get repossessed or that you can’t afford council tax.
It’s worth qualifying this. A lot of people have awful childhoods and get exposed to the real, nasty world right from the start. And those people might not share my feeling of childhood nostalgia.
But a lot of people — particularly in wealthy nations — do have a rosy view of their childhood.
And yet. If you asked a child whether they wanted to do a Peter Pan — and never grow up? I don’t think that would be a popular idea.
Why? Well because there’s so much stuff that seems amazing and exciting that adults are allowed to do that kids aren’t.
When you’re a child — the idea of growing up seems really exciting.
Adults set the rules and so presumably if you’re an adult you don’t have to follow any rules.
Tim Minchin’s song in Matilda ‘When I Grow Up’ expresses this beautifully. And it’s what set me thinking about this topic.
‘When I grow up,
I will eat sweets every day on the way to work
And I will go to bed late every night’
This is a really powerful sentiment. And it’s the simplest, and indeed most childish reason for why you should embrace growing up.
All of a sudden you can do all this stuff that you were previously banned from doing.
If you’re feeling down, I’d thoroughly recommend this as a really great way to cheer yourself up:
Go to a supermarket and buy all the snacks that were your favourite as a kid. Then spread them all around your home in an act that would absolutely delight your child-self. Also, eat them. (You don’t need to just spread them around)
At heart this is about remembering that simple things like a particular sweet used to bring you so much happiness — and there’s no reason why that should suddenly change.
Minchin’s song has a few extra layers to it though.
‘When I grow up,
I will have treats every day
And I’ll play with things that mum
Pretends that mums don’t think are fun’
This comes in the 2nd verse and it’s an acknowledgement of the fact (interestingly, from a kid’s perspective) that adults don’t walk around looking like they’re living the dream.
In fact, pretty universally, children will see their parents as regularly stressed out people.
This can be kind of bemusing to younger children. In this song, they describe the situation as an adult taking a decision not to enjoy the things they used to enjoy.
Or at least — even if the adults do enjoy the same things — they have decided they are generally too busy or stressed to take the time to enjoy themselves.
One of the reasons looking after kids can be so much fun is that it gives you an excuse to be ‘doing something important’ (i.e. supervising children) — but also at the same time, you can run around playing hide and seek. But we shouldn’t need an excuse to have fun.
If my suggestion about buying a load of cheese strings, petit filous and coco pops sounds stupid… why exactly? Take a moment to examine when exactly these conservative filters started kicking in? When did you start censoring yourself? When did you stop enjoying artificial cheese in detachable stringy form??
Do stuff that your kid self will enjoy.
Don’t feel guilty about it.
Fairly simple. Right — let’s get to the final message I want to draw from the song. This is a bit more fiddly but I’d recommend sticking it out cause it’s a really useful technique.
From the chorus of this song:
‘When I grow up
I will be strong enough to carry all the heavy things you have to haul around with you
When you’re a grown-up
And when I grow up
I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight
Beneath the bed each night
To be a grown-up’
I think this makes a really heartening point.
When kids look at adults — they see these grand amazing creatures who are able to take on anything. Whether it is spiders, or roller coasters, or heavy objects, or the monster that lives in the wardrobe — all the things that seem terrifying as a child, adults seem to be able to brush aside with ease.
OK, fine, but once you are an adult you have adult-size problems to deal with. Right?
True, but what I think is interesting is that when you explain these kinds of ‘adult’ difficulties to a kid — you probably phrase it as something small and surmountable.
For example, if you have money problems, you’ll probably tell your son or daughter that ‘mummy and daddy have to be a bit more careful about buying expensive things for the moment’. We try and protect our children. We try to not overly worry them.
And I think that this is actually a really good internal dialogue to aim for. Let me explain:
The main reason that being an adult doesn’t make you feel all-powerful is you’ve gone through all the growing up ‘with yourself’ — and so it feels that in many ways you’re the same kid you once were — just now wearing an adult body.
It can be really hard to monitor your own changes as you mature. In the same way you don’t notice your siblings getting taller. Or your hair growing day by day.
I find that an important thought process is to remind yourself regularly of the progress you’ve made over the years. The things you used to not be able to cope with, but now can. It makes for some great positive reinforcement.
So when I talk about an internal dialogue — what I’m advocating is basically: ‘be the grown-up to your kid self’.
I think it’s very telling that when we become overwhelmed by events we tend to revert to childish behaviours — crying, sulking or lashing out. That’s us feeling a lack of support and wishing for someone we can go and demand a solution from (which is what children tend to do from their parents).
And I think you can be your own adult. You can acknowledge the kid inside you but also simultaneously remember that you now have the experience and tools to take these problems on.
You can think about how you’d reassure a kid about the same problem. And you can use that kind of language to describe the problem to yourself.
And it’s okay to acknowledge the kid inside you who feels hopeless. Have a cry, go and whine to someone else. If you don’t give your kid-self some acknowledgement — they will feel hurt, ignored and abandoned.
But once you’ve cried it out, you’ll find that you can return to your adult self. You can gently comfort your child self — and start thinking of the careful and steady steps necessary to solve the problem (in the same way you’d talk a child through their problems).
So this is ultimately about being kind and gentle to yourself, but also not falling into the trap of thinking that you’re still powerless — because you’re an adult now — and you now have a load of skills and life experience which you can draw upon.
So — to embrace growing up.
- Do stuff that your kid self will enjoy.
- Don’t feel guilty about it.
- Be the adult to your kid self.
As a final thought, it’s worth remembering that there’s a load of fun adult stuff that kids don’t even consider — whether it’s great conversation, spiritual experiences, mind-altering substances or sex. All these opportunities open up when you grow up.
And having a few years behind you means you can truly pursue your dreams — because people take you more seriously and will give you jobs or record-contracts.
Maybe a lot of this seems obvious.
But I decided it was worth saying because most adults don’t seem to be having a great time, most of the time.
So remember many of the ‘responsibilities and constraints’ of adulthood are self-imposed.
And try and remember that you’ve made it!
You’re a grown-up, finally.
And try and be liberated by that fact — rather than weighed down.