The Inner Child

My three year old son is picky about what he eats, like most three year olds are. He doesn’t like most of the things that we serve for supper and isn’t afraid to be vocal about it.

My six year old loves art projects. She draws and paints and cuts paper and glues things together. She doesn’t like the cleanup part, though, and will often get quite upset during that part.

My eight year old doesn’t like going to bed. He thinks he should stay up quite a bit later than he does and makes sure that we know about it through lots of grumbling and protestation before bedtime.

Each of them have strong impulsive desires. There are things that they should be doing and there are things that they want to be doing. When these things don’t overlap, it becomes very difficult very quickly.

They want to justify doing the things they want to do and, at the same time, justify not doing the things they don’t want to do.

My oldest child and, to a lesser extent, my middle child do have some understanding of the long term benefit of doing the “good thing.” They understand why you eat your veggies, even if it doesn’t taste as good as other dining options. They understand why you go to bed early, even if you’d rather stay up and play.

In other words, they understand that doing the thing that isn’t enjoyable in the short term sometimes makes things way better in the long term.

Still, they’re often driven by impulse, and that impulse almost always steers them to whatever choice is most enjoyable in the short term.

I understand that impulse. I deeply understand it.

Even now, it’s sometimes tempting to spend money with reckless abandon on whatever it is I want at the moment. It’s tempting to skip out on exercise or to eat a tasty but unhealthy meal. It’s tempting to put down a challenging but thought-provoking book and pick up a page-turner. It’s tempting to not “bank” some articles for the future and instead play a computer game.

That impulse is the exact same thing I see on the face of my children when they’re struggling between what the “good” choice is and what the “fun” choice is. They’re learning what it takes to be a mature, rational person who can control their impulses – but they’re still children.

I’m an adult, of course, but that child is still alive inside of me. It’s that child that shouts at me to do whatever it is that’s most fun in the short term without thinking about the long term.

It’s that inner child that shouts at me to eat something unhealthy because it will taste good now.

It’s that inner child that pushes me to spend money needlessly because I’ll enjoy whatever I buy now.

Thankfully, the adult in me realizes that simply maximizing the short term utterly bankrupts the long term. Instead, the best route is to sometimes take the less enjoyable route in the short term so that I can enjoy the long term more. Even better, sometimes I can find a route that’s enjoyable in the short term and doesn’t drain the long term, either.

Sometimes, I listen to that inner child. It can be fun. That inner child is impulsive and he’s going to lead me toward something that’s enjoyable right now. Thankfully, the adult in me knows that I’m going to listen every once in a while and has prepared a budget that allows for some “free spending” each month.

Never, ever shut out that inner child. Instead, learn when you can listen to that child and know what you can do in advance to make some impulsiveness possible.

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