This may be outside your usual range of problems, but I’d like some help. I’ve never really felt “grown-up”. My friends seem to think I’m grown-up, and I've held down a good job for years, and am about to be a father, but I feel all the time that I’m pretending to be adult. I know other people say the same, but they always laugh when they say it, and I can’t believe they feel like I do. I always feel I’m going to be found out. Is this as normal as my friends say it is? It worries me more than I like to admit.
It’s hardly surprising that your feelings of not being “grown up” have come on particularly strongly at this point in your life, just before you’re about to become a father. You’re asking yourself: will I make a good father? How will I cope? Should I have brought another little person into the world? Can I provide for it? Heeelp! I think nearly every sensitive about-to-be-parent must have these occasional feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy before the birth and it would be most odd if you didn’t share them.
It’s difficult, honestly, to feel grown-up unless you have something less grown-up to relate to. The boss with a hen-pecking wife may feel like a seven-year-old when he’s at home, but as he walks through the office door, and knows he’s going to be surrounded by underlings looking to him for advice, he grows into a fully fledged man. And I think it’s a mistake to imagine that we all feel, as we age, a kind of progression of states, from the infantile to the adult. Most people feel, on a Tuesday, about three years old, and on a Wednesday, around 80. I remember feeling very grown-up at eight, a time when I was weighed down with responsibility. These days, much older, I can, in the company of people I feel at ease with, feel like a young girl. Last week there was a moment when I was bawling like a three-year-old.
There’s the common dismissive remark that “all men are little boys” but it’s not true. It’s more true that men often behave like little boys, especially around women who remind them of their mums. But nearly all people, at some moments in their lives anyway, are capable of great maturity.
Once your baby arrives you’ll soon feel less childlike, or, rather, less child-like less often. When your child tries to stick its fingers into the electric plug, the adult in you will rise up to prevent it. You’ll see you have very little in common with a needy child, particularly if it’s looking to you for comfort and support.
It’s only in the last 10 years that I’ve stopped feeling as if I’ll be found out. And even now, I have moments.
Console yourself, David, with two truths. One is that your friends laugh when they talk about this subject because they, like you, feel frightened. And remember that people who haven’t grown up don’t go around bewailing the fact that they don’t feel grown-up. The real little boys are too busy throwing their toys out of the pram.
Stay forever young
I have always felt exactly the same, and once, in an unsolicited confidence, a high-flying friend said that he, too: worried that one day he’d be “found out”. Now almost 70, I don’t worry any more: having brought up two children of whom I’m very proud, and having had a successful and highly rewarding teaching career, I realise that it’s actually something to be pleased about.
My childhood role models always seemed to be so certain; I expected that one day I’d be the same. But I’m glad I’m not. Having a child-like interest in the world means that one can be excited and surprised by the unexpected, and remain open-minded. Your own children will appreciate a parent who is not staid and set in his ways.
Christina Jones, by email
Don’t lose this
You seem pretty mature to me. We all have an inner child that makes us responsive to new experiences and drives the process of our emotional growth. Once we lose the inner child, we “ossify” and grow set in our ways. It seems to me that you have kept it, and that is a good thing.
Francis Beswick, by email
Next week’s dilemma
My son has been for a few sleepovers with another boy, his best friend – he’s seven – but I’ve been horrified to hear what’s gone on while he’s there. The parents have argued violently, the boys have been left alone – admittedly only for half an hour – with no one in the house, and they’re allowed to use matches to build fires in the garden. There’s more. The trouble is my son really loves going round there. I’m torn between encouraging his independence and preventing something I feel might end in disaster.
What would you advise Sally to do?