“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, “Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!” This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.”
- — J. M. Barrie
Wendy has a shit job. In the first paragraph of the first chapter of Peter Pan her lot is cast, doomed to a decrepit idea of cheerful, thankless motherhood. The other children play.
We all know Wendies. We yearn for our own Wendy to lean on when life gets a little hard or when the playground bullies strike or the darkness brings on the monsters in our hearts. Of all the roles we play our childish shadow roles are the most seductive, and the desire for the perfect parent will never leave us. So we look for Mother’s in our lovers, Fathers in our bosses, or we Wendy up ourselves like it’s noble and play the Bleeding Heart to the friend who just needs our support as he steals our favorite aunt’s wristwatch to hock and get his fix.
To need or be needed is an aspiration for a lifetime built on childish fantasy.
The problem with false child-parent relationships.
As a manager for a big corporation I frequently witnessed (and experienced) the unspoken childish fantasies of employees. They (we) expected our employers to parent them (us) by making the plans, clarifying what is right and wrong, and providing rests and medicine. This way, when they failed, we knew who to blame.
How tempting it is to blame the 1% for our problems!
I admit, many times I required a lover to mother me to earn my trust. I tested her with my regressions framed by an unspoken rule, “If you truly love me, you’ll hold me when I get like this.” (How sexy.)
Then there is the temptation of Wendyhood. The deal looks like this: I’ll fix your life and you’ll love me for it.
(And now, drum roll, the tweetable quote):
When we hand over our responsibility to others, we give up our freedom, and when we take it from others, we deny them theirs and ours alike.
Growing up is not the end. It’s the beginning.
Wendy loses her freedom through false parenthood. We can gain ours by taking full responsibility for the roles we play.
Your role should never be the Irresponsible Employee who always follows the rules and expects to be rewarded for it. Look honestly at your behavior and expectations. Are you asking your boss to be your mother? Probably to some degree. Instead, ask this question: what can I make of myself in this job— a better Designer (problem solver), a better Mentor (manager), a better Connector (marketeer)?
As a Friend ask, how can I be my buddy’s Confederate, and not his Father?
Ask, how can I be my lover’s Lover, instead of my lover’s Son?
Aren’t those much more exciting pursuits?
Fantasy is underrated.
Look, we never completely grow out of our childhood needs, and that’s not the point at all. The point is taking responsibility for them. When we ask people to treat us like children, it’s best to do it explicitly. That’s what good therapists, priests, and prostitutes are for. We enter a liminal space and regress. We surrender to the unconditional love of someone who knows what she’s doing so we can fully experience it and emerge, if we’re lucky, transformed.
You can even do this with a friend or a lover. When life beats you up, sometimes you just want your friggin’ mommy. The trap comes when one of you starts diving into your crap, and the other, stressed out or jealous or resentful of the demand to be the adult in the room, plunges in too. “Oh, you think you have it bad? Let me tell you bad!” Now we have two whining children in the room.
With some careful attention both adults can dip into fantasy roles and find some healing (and maybe some heat). Here are a few simple starting lines for the one who needs to be indulged:
“I’m scared. I need you to hold my hand.”
“I need to complain. Can you just listen while I sound like a whining bitch?”
“Please help me ride this storm; I’m out of control fucking raging shit fucked.”
For this to work one needs to stay the adult while the other plays the child. With some preparation and practice and giant scoops of trust, this can make a good relationship exciting as hell. Of course, you need to come out of this fantasy and get on with life, and I would say it works best when the roles get swapped from time to time.
NOTE: There always needs to be the option to respond. “Not now Dear.” That’s how the trust gets built.
Wendy’s mom knew her stuff.
Mrs Darling was Peter Pan’s first encounter with the family whose children he would enchant. Confident in her role as Mother, she could see his predicament and still not be seduced to fix him. Instead, she let her wonderment see him for what he was.
“He was a lovely boy, clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that ooze out of trees but the most entrancing thing about him was that he had all his first teeth. When he saw she was a grown-up, he gnashed the little pearls at her.”
Now that’s hot.