You need to grow up!

girl on swing

Trigger warning: mentions child abuse, being a parent with cPTSD

You need to grow up! It’s a phrase, with many variations, I must have heard a thousand times when I was a child. It’s a phrase so ingrained in me that I still say it in my own head, and today I caught myself saying it to my daughter.

I know that, aside from anything else i’m going to say on the matter, it’s ridiculous to tell a 3 year old to grow up. But sometimes these things slip out, and it’s more a case of my failing brain reaching for automatic slogans that might be lurking, than actually saying anything thoughtful or deliberate.

We are pretty stressed at home, as my daughter caught Covid on the first day back after Christmas, and although she has coped with it really well, having to fit childcare on top of two full time jobs (with clashing deadlines) has really taken its toll. In fact, I now have tonsillitis, which I suspect is at least in part due to being run down.

On top of this, my daughter’s frustration is coming out in aggression. I’m currently sporting three cuts on my forehead from when she raked her nails down my face 2 days ago. So, with all this in mind, careless words can emerge.

But it’s one phrase I really regret saying and I am going to resolve not to use it again. I immediately felt triggered (triggered by myself? Yes.) and got very upset. I thought of little me, who had already experienced terrible trauma by the age of 5, being told time and again to grow up. In many ways, I had been forced to grow up more than anyone ever should. To experience some of the horrors of the world that many people will never see.

And from the age of 5 through to 18, I was beaten down, mentally and physically, left to live in fear and shame and given no emotional education. I had been aged by my experiences, and yet I had no maturity. I was treated in a way that prevented me from growing up as I should, and yet I was punished for being that way.

I was brought up in a way that had strange consequences. In many ways I am still childish, even in my late 30s. As a young man in my 20s, I was very naive to a lot of things, and yet I had a healthy sense of cynicism, fear and mistrust regarding other people.

You do what you need to survive, and in a traumatic childhood your priority is to stay safe at all costs. It really isn’t the kids who run about ‘childishly’ causing trouble that I worry about now, it’s the quiet ones who stand to attention and grit their teeth, who do anything to avoid getting in trouble.

Usually when I was told to grow up it was because I was having fun at an inappropriate time. Or perhaps I being a bit naughty or, worst of all, I was upset. Not being allowed to play if it didn’t suit my parents was one thing, but having any signs of emotion punished and dismissed has had terrible consequences in my life.

It drove me to the brink time and again. I hid away from people, fearing confrontation or even debate, flashing into outbursts of uncontrollable rage when I just couldn’t swallow any more. And now, I largely avoid anyone and everything that might make life worth living.

So, what about now? Do I wish I had grown up sooner? Do I wish I was wise at 15, mature for my age at 10? No, I wish that I had been able to be a proper kid, messing around, causing trouble, experimenting, pushing boundaries, trying new things, HAVING FUN! And through all of it, growing in the most beautiful way.

And so, I want my little girl to develop broadly and and in the most joyful way possible. I don’t want her to grow up sooner so that I can make excuses for not doing my job as a parent. I will not be sending her to cycle 3 miles along a main road to the supermarket to do the weekly shop at the age of 9.

I will not be using fear as a way of learning, or as a means to control her. I will be open-minded, I will listen to her music, let her have her hair how she wants it (even if I don’t like it), I will allow her to do things which are fun but might put me out….all the opposite of what my parents did for me and my brother.

I resolve NOT to tell her, to grow up.

Thanks for reading and take care.

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