I see several teenagers in my private practice, and here is a (slightly modified) quote from a 14-year-old boy with a single, gay dad:
I get along with my dad pretty well, but he wears clothes that are appropriate for guys my age — and totally wrong for 42-year-old dads: shirts that are way too tight and the kind of 70’s t-shirts that my friends and I wear. He dyes his hair way too dark and even dyes his chest hair. I feel humiliated when my friends see me with him. How can I get him to stop trying to look like someone 20 years’ younger?
It’s tempting to be like Peter Pan, and resist growing up. But then we lose the power of adulthood. Growing up is about maturity, getting smarter and calmer and creating a life for ourselves that really works.
Childishness is about trying to get your way. Kids are pretty powerless, adults call the shots. The only way a kid can get power is by getting adults to do what they want; manipulating them. You may be 60 years’ old, but still haven’t grown up.
Consider this check list. Do you find yourself:
- Extremely moody
- Manipulating people to get your way
- Easily upset when other people don’t do what you want
- Feeling powerless and helpless
- Dependent on others for your happiness
- Frequently borrowing money from people
These are all traits of children and, all-too-often, of adults who still act like children.
The power of growing up is about knowing that, unlike your childhood self, you are not powerless, you have access to a great many resources. You are an adult and can choose your own path, friends, job and life.
So many of my clients are caught between their childhood fears and their adult competence; they have one foot stuck in the “muck” of their past and one foot in present reality. My job is to help them pull their foot out of the “muck” and get both feet in present reality. This is easier said than done: our past strongly imprints our subconscious, and our subconscious is like the part of an iceberg beneath the water: huge and hard to dissolve. But, tapping into the power of growing up is the way to dissolve it.
While it’s tempting to dress and act like someone much younger than you are. trying to hold on to youth is futile. Why not embrace your age and get clear on all the aspects of adulthood that are a joy? Peace of mind is severely underrated by young people, but it is a powerful tool to use to create a great life. Acceptance of things as they are is another tool that comes from maturity and wisdom. We can only change ourselves and others so much; knowing what is worth the effort and what isn’t is one of the secret “powers” that only grown-ups possess.
Maybe this sounds too Pollyanna-ish. You might be saying, “What’s so great about getting to 40 or 50 or beyond?” When I hear people talking about how “invisible” older folks are, it doesn’t sound very attractive. And, if you just focus purely on physical appearance, they’re right. However, a real grown-up knows the power of accepting that each age has its joys and its sorrows. Young people may be beautiful, but unhappy and confused. Older people may be happier, wealthier and more content, but those rock-hard abs may be a distant memory.
I hear many men and women say that they are afraid of getting older, that turning 40 is a scary birthday and that by age 50 you might as well pack up your personality and stay home, “cause who wants some ugly old guy who’s bald and has a beer belly?” as one client told me, his cynicism hiding his fears. This person has yet to find the power of being a grown-up. He hasn’t yet done the inner work to value himself at his current age and claim his true, mature adult power.
Don’t give your power away by getting lost in an obsession with youth. It’s wonderful to be young AND it’s wonderful to be 30, 40, 50 and beyond. Every age has its treasures, why not start to find yours?