Can we find child-like joy while struggling with adulthood?

By: Hadassah Umbarger, Guest Writer

I’ve been witnessing an interesting dichotomy lately. On one side, I hear my friends and peers and even the media that’s produced and consumed by people my age echoing a common sentiment: We want to be kids again. Adulting is hard. We want to go back.

On the other side, I hear people a generation or two older say that, “Kids these days aren’t maturing as quickly” and become legitimately confused as to why things have changed.

And they have changed. Teens are getting their driver’s licenses later in life and getting their first jobs later in life, too, according to a study by the Federal Car Administration and an article by the Telegraph. I’m the age now that my mom was when she had me, which is a weird thought. Even if I get married and have kids, logistically, it’s going to be a minute still.

I don’t really intend this to be a study of how we got here and why we’re here. I’m more interested in seeing if there’s anything redeemable in our current state. How do we move forward as healthy, happy adults if we’re apparently stuck in this fantasy of wanting to be kids again?

I think the first thing is to acknowledge that we cannot be kids again. Look at me, loves: We can’t go back in time, and that’s ok. You and I are adults now. It’s ok if you’re scared, if you’re not ready to just go buy a house and take care of taxes and things like that. I’m right there with you, but I think somewhere inside, we’re hoping that a “real” adult will notice us and say, “Oh there, there. You don’t have to do this anymore,” and take our responsibilities from us.

I have a couple responses to that. Sometimes, my youngest siblings will lament the fact that they aren’t babies anymore. Especially my almost-5-year-old sister, who is the baby of the family and rather spoiled. She’s getting better now, but there was a space of time where she would mention that she wished she was a baby.

I guess it’s human nature to look back at the “good old days” and wish we could return. But whenever she would start whining in that vein, I would scoop her up and hold her like a baby and say, “OK, you can be a baby again! That just means that you don’t get to play outside, or watch TV, or eat ice cream, or run around, or play with Play-Doh…”

She would pretty quickly concede that she, in fact, did not want to be a baby again.

So darlings, while it can be intimidating to be an adult now, look at all the things that you can do now, at the autonomy that you longed for when you were a kid.

I remember when I was in second and third grade, I simply adored mom’s and dad’s friends that were college- and right-after-college age. They were just so cool. That’s you now! You can buy things, drive yourself around, and do so many things. What’s something that you do normally now that little you would be in awe of? Sit with that for a little bit. I think it’s pretty healing. Have a conversation with little you and tell them about it.

Now that we’ve got that solidified, here’s the next point I want to make: We cannot be kids again, and we should not be childish because that encourages us in our despair, but we should be child-like.

I know I know, Hadassah: What the heck are you saying? You said we can’t be kids and now you’re saying we should be kids?

No. We should be child-like.

Someone who is childish throws tantrums when things don’t go their way. They have little awareness for the people around them and focus only on themselves and their own needs. They also care only about what they want in the present moment and can’t think of the future, even if it’s as close as the next day. This is immaturity.

Someone who is child-like lives simply. Their whole day is turned around for the better when they get surprised with some fruit snacks. They are able to encounter a bird, cat, or dog, or even a baby with wonder. They’re willing to ask people their favorite color, because that question is just as important, if not more important, than “What major are you?” They live a life that fosters their imagination and talk about their favorite books and movies with their friends.

Furthermore, Jesus tells us to be child-like. Matthew 18:3 – “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (NABRE) I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t want us to be the iPad kids you see at Olive Garden, but He does invite us into the simplicity and sincerity of children.

What I’ve set down here is no small task, and we can’t do it by ourselves, but with grace and time, I think we can get there. Let’s encourage each other to cast away despair at being adults and to look forward instead at the joy and goodness of being child-like and grown-up.

PHOTO: Courtesy photo, Unsplash