“If you act like an adult when you’re a kid you can afford to act like a kid the rest of your life”Walt Disney
“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”George Bernard Shaw
We’re often told (by our parents and our society at large) that becoming an adult is an important part of development. “Act your age not your shoe size”, we’re told. But what if we don’t grow up? What if we stay the perpetual child?
Often referred to as Peter Pan syndrome, qualities of the eternal child include spontaneity, risk taking, creativity, imagination, joy, independence, charm but also a distinct lack of groundedness, reliability and consideration for others.
Someone who is manifesting this archetype will often appear lost and flighty, desperately searching for their own personal Holy Grail but never quite finding it. They struggle with commitment and routine, often feeling trapped by the confines of ordinary life and the boundaries of time. They search for the perfect partner, but are too fearful to commit and so any relationship is doomed before it begins. The Robbie Williams lyric resonates in this respect, “before I fall in love, I’m beginning to leave her”. These forever kids (adults) end up living in limbo, waiting for that day when their time will come. They experience a sense of emotional homelessness.
I strongly advocate that this is a state to develop form and not to remain forever young. Yes, there can be temporary joy and excitement in the creative or hedonistic pursuit of the ever-playful existence, but this is soon replaced with a sense of confusion, despair and pain. To remain in this perpetual childlike state can be torture. The poor soul never knows whether it is coming or going. It never settles and is never is satisfied. Desperately searching and never finding.
We can begin to shake off our eternal child by introducing, even in a small way, routine and structure in our lives. Starting a regular class or therapy can be a good example, as well as staying in regular employment. Renowned psychoanalyst Carl Jung explained, “It does not matter what job you take. The point is that for once you do something thoroughly and conscientiously, whatever it is.”
Another major part of healing from the eternal child involves facing the reality of our upbringing and our relationships with our caregivers. Anger, grief and hurt may result as we begin to face our own reality, which although difficult can be a great catalyst for change. Another fundamental aspect of maturing is for us to face our shadow. To face the parts of ourselves we conceal or project onto others so that we can accept and see ourselves as the flawed, yet whole beings that we are.
I believe we need to accept the true ordinariness of our existence, no matter how painful it might be. It’s real and honest as opposed to existing in some made up wonderland. There can be real world gains through living an ordinary life. One advantage is that we often can become unstuck in our lives. We are no longer waiting for the next best thing, we’re out in the world, making choices and moving forwards, maybe not in huge leaps, but forward nonetheless.
We may see an increase in people identifying with the eternal child as the millennial generation ages. We have more young people struggling to find work, or homes of their own and who remain dependent upon their parents for longer. A failure to launch. It’s been reported that millennials will be the first generation to earn less than their parents. Has economic constraints (mixed with some helicopter parenting) unwittingly caused a generation of possible eternal children? If this is so, then getting to know the eternal child may be pretty relevant and useful for us all. So let’s stop kidding around, and get real.
Photo by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash