353. The Child in the Adult

From about 1971 to about1981, most of my friends were children. I was bothered by many adults I knew, and I delighted in being able to spend most of my time with children. Having recently become an adult myself, I saw the world of adults as one in which you had to be fake, pretending to fit in. Many adults seemed to sense this attitude in me, and so they stayed away. There were plenty of adults who were my friends during those years, but I considered them all exceptions.
Lately, I’ve found it easier and easier to like adults, including adults I would have had more trouble liking earlier in my life. Partly, I suppose the reason is that more and more adults are younger than I am, and it’s easier for me to see the children they once were. And since my own childhood seems so recent, even as I approach age fifty, I strongly suspect that no one is far from being a child – not even adults who are several decades older than I am. Since I like children, enjoying their charms and easily forgiving what I consider their faults, I don’t have to make a great leap to like adults.
We tend to have higher standards for the adults in our lives. We expect them to have figured out ways to become less self-centered, less needy, less impulsive,
and so on. When we think they haven’t made such progress, we call them immature – “childish.” I’ve been labelled that way, and I’ll bet you have, too. I’ve even occasionally heard children called “childish.” You’d think that there ought to be at least part of life when you’re not supposed to be mature. When I see an adult behaving the way I’ve seen children behave, it seems natural to me. If the behavior I see bothers me, I respond in ways that let the adult know I’m bothered. If I like a behavior, I usually say so. Since people (adults and children) like to be liked, I’m pretty popular.
When an adult behaves in a way that bothers me, I start out by probing a little – trying to find out whether the annoying behavior is just a fluke. If it turns out to be typical of the adult, I try to find out whether the adult is open to criticism and willing to change. If not, I think about whether the behavior is a serious obstacle to friendship – whether the problem is mine, or not really such a problem. If, and only if I’ve completed this probe and still haven’t found a way to like the grown child, I dislike him/her. Very few people make it that far. I realize that that approach sounds terribly analytical. I don’t start each encounter with a conscious strategy, though; I’m analyzing my approach now, after the fact. The bottom line is that I like a lot more adults now that I can see the children in them.

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