A Cocoon for Crafting Wings

The balancing act of nurturing our child and adult selves

Feb 10, 2023

Psychology Self-Care Life Growth
sculpture of two children inside two adults

Photo by Alexander Milov "Inner Child"

My husband and I went light shopping over the weekend. We were wanting to replace all of our hallway ceiling lights as well as the chandelier that came with the house we purchased a little over a year ago. We walked around the store, taking in the large selection, craning our necks and pointing to ones we liked and ones that were a bit too contemporary for our taste. Looking around the store, we seemed to be the youngest customers. The saleswoman who greeted us thought the best sales tactic was to interrupt our shopping every five minutes to “check in.” Black, bronze, ivory; cylinder, dome, geometric; rustic, traditional, crystal - the choices were endless. And it was no surprise that the ones that were her favorite were also the ones with the most expensive price tag.

The whole experience felt like such an adult thing to do. Why is it that oftentimes adulting feels just plain surreal? As if we’ve entered a bizarre video game where the levels never end and the reward for passing any one of them is short-lived. I often wonder if our ancestors felt the same about adulting as many of us do today. Though their to-do list might have looked different (no need to check emails or charge their car battery), I’m sure they dealt with similar themes — loss, responsibility, how to pay the bills, balancing work and everything else, raising kids, health issues. But it seems as if our adult crises in this day and age are of a different breed, requiring a new set of mental and emotional tools.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 

—1 Corinthians 13:11

When is the moment we give up “childish ways”? At what point do we step into the role of adult, psychologically, and no longer look back? I imagine for some it's very clear depending on their circumstances - having to grow up fast due to loss, trauma, or misfortune. For others, becoming a parent is the milestone that propels them into adulthood. But for the rest of us that do not have a clear before and after marker, no initiation of any sort, what makes us finally feel like an adult?

Could it be as simple as a choice we make? And if so, do we still not have to contend with past wounds stemming from childhood, whether conscious of them or not? I can't help but think that many of us, including myself, are more often than not walking around masquerading as adults when deep down, we are just children looking to find our way back home, craving to belong and to be loved. Such a simple ask, complicated by such a broken world.

We are simultaneously being pulled forward by our tasks and responsibilities as adults while being drawn back by our inner child's cries for healing.

Far from the nest we grew up in - however healthy or unhealthy - we must now learn the art of parenting ourselves with the tools and lessons we've acquired along the way. Even for those who had a relatively favorable childhood, there are behaviors and value systems that must be surrendered because they no longer serve the adult we are today. This balancing act of growing up and maturing while tending to our child self is the dance we learn well into old age, clumsily at first perhaps, but improving with intentional practice.

For in every adult there dwells the child that was, and in every child there lies the adult that will be.

― Yong Kang Chan

And so it goes, this vacillating back and forth between adult and child that shapes our days. Sure, some of us mature faster than others, some of us need more healing than others. But our childhood follows us into adulthood no matter what our circumstances or dispositions. There are times we step into the role of adult easily, making important decisions and steering the course of our life firmly. And then there come the days when the flaming darts of living pierce right through every one of the layers we have formed to protect ourselves, landing deep in the heart of that child, making her pain impossible to ignore, her weeping impossible not to hear. So we begin the process of nurturing, gently dressing her wounds and comforting her until, like clockwork, duty calls, and our grown-up obligations begin to tug at us again.

Will we ever reach the place of being “healed enough” where this balancing act is no longer necessary? I honestly don't know, I haven't lived long enough to find out. But I imagine it is conceivable to arrive at the point where we don't have to do as much tending, and all the work we have done to heal begins to compound and we are released of past hurts for good. This is the point that Whitney Houston sings of so eloquently when she says:

Because the greatest love of all Is happening to me I found the greatest love of all Inside of me… Learning to love yourself It is the greatest love of all

Loving ourselves is the epicenter of this journey. According to dictionary.com, “epicenter” in the case of geology means “a point, directly above the true center of disturbance, from which the shock waves of an earthquake apparently radiate.” What a beautiful metaphor for this topic. As our inner child is exceedingly disturbed by external afflictions large and small, she transmits her pain outward, communicating to us her agony in ways that shake us up. And with each shake, we have an opportunity to learn and to apply self-love.

“The wound,” Rumi said, “is the place where the light enters you.”

The lights are supposed to arrive in two weeks and will be installed by professionals. After that, I'm sure it'll be something else that needs to get done - fixing our iron fence that's leaning, buying dining room furniture, painting the basement. Maybe adulting really is just a video game where we're challenged to get to the next level, whatever that is, and enjoy the prize for a while. Or could it be that it's much deeper than that? Could it be that adulting is actually the cocoon in which the child in us learns to craft her wings? A playground where she comes full circle with the “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) being that God designed her to be. And that is a crystal you can't put a price tag on.