Grow up or Remain Dependent; a Polar Dilemma

This adorable polar cub basks in the secure warmth provided by his Momma. But soon, this little bear must learn to swim and face the world’s harsh realities. Gain insights into why cubs (and human adults) often resist the stressful process of growing up. 

Time for the Bear Cub to Grow Up

Years ago, I attended a Chicago zoo event covered by reporters from three TV networks. On this day, a baby polar bear cub made his debut to the public. Legend had it that Momma bear would plop the baby cub into a large pool of water, and he would either sink or swim. 

Scores of visitors eagerly anticipated the first glimpse of the little cub who was born a few months earlier. When the gate of the polar-bear den opened, Momma raced out to experience her first spring day outside the cave where she had remained all winter. But the little cub remained in the cozy den for some time. Finally, the tiny white ball of fur emerged from his shelter with wide eyes and cautious steps. Slowly, he moved toward the pool. As soon as he got close to Momma, she dove into the water, making a massive splash. Little baby cub scampered back into the safe den as fast as his tiny legs could trot.

Baby hid during most of Momma’s leisurely swim. Finally, he poked his tiny head out of the den to watch. Carefully, he ventured out of the cave, making his way within a few feet of the pool. When Momma climbed out of the pool and shook off several gallons of water, little one raced back into the den again. This drama repeated for over two hours. Although the tiny cub eventually worked up the nerve to plop his adorable little face into the water, he ran back into the den every time Momma approached him. Finally, the reporters and visitors gave up on watching the cub’s debut swim. The zookeeper later reported that the baby successfully made his first swim with Momma the next day – without spectators. 

Time for Humans to Grow up

The polar bear cub instinctively knew his ultimate fate – to grow up by learning how to swim. However, he managed his stress about growing up by pursuing this task at his own pace and on his own terms. Similarly, in my private practice, most clients struggle to grow up and become more independent. Many young adults remain home with their parents long after securing stable, livable employment. Mothers often resist returning to school or work after raising children. Far too many spouses tolerate unspeakable abuse to avoid living alone. Countless parents enable their children’s dependency to meet their own dependency needs. 

Tips on Easing the Stress of Growing up

So often the case, much can be learned by watching pets – in households, in captivity, or in nature. In this situation, the baby bear achieved his first growing-up task of learning how to swim. His avoidant behavior suggested that he dreaded this task. But, in a reasonably short time, he faced his fears by employing these strategies. 


The little cub watched his mother pursue his feared task. Observing Momma’s lack of fear and obvious pleasure in swimming reduced his anxiety. 


When the anxiety about swimming became too overwhelming, the tiny polar bear ran back to the safety of his den, where he could shore up his resources.

Take Baby Steps

Whenever the bear cub left the comfortable den, he moved closer to the pool where Momma was swimming. Once he gained confidence, he even plopped his little face in the water to experience it. 

Keep at it

The little bear did not just hide in the den. Instead, he kept facing his fear task in small doses. 

Proceed on Your Own Timetable

Baby wisely chose to perform the expected task of swimming when he was good and ready. He allowed himself a night to sleep on it and a whole day to mentally prepare for his first swim. 

Perform on Your Terms

The polar-bear cub did not want to perform such a scary task in front of TV cameras and a vast audience. Therefore, he wisely asserted himself and chose not to perform under those circumstances. When he saw an opportunity to learn to swim with only his trusted mother present, he agreed to swim -quite successfully. 

Let’s be honest. We all have some fear about growing up. It’s just so much more comfortable living in the safety and security of familiar surroundings. But then, we often regret not taking those risks to live our lives more fully. In the future, when you need to make a significant life change, learn a few lessons from our animal friends. 

Image is under license from Shutterstock. 

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