If you have been blessed, as I am, to be a parent, you know parenting to be an experience of the greatest highs coupled with the lowest of lows. This is not an exaggeration – parenting is part joy and part pain. Nevertheless, for the lucky parents, parenting is an experience with much more joy than pain.
Joy & Pain
Yet, no matter how lucky a parent may be, joy and pain are not mutually exclusive. Parenting is not like the toss of a coin where you always get heads or tails. Instead, parenting is a currency that when tossed in the air always lands on its side.
In the melodic words of Frankie Beverly and Maze, joy and pain are like sunshine and rain. So too, the pains of parenting are unavoidable.
From the immediate pains of childbirth (something that I fortunately can only provide a second hand report) to the pains of early morning feedings, to incessant crying whenever you need a good night ‘s sleep, to having to change the most disgusting diapers – the beginnings of parenting is brutal. And believe it or not, our little bundles of joy couldn’t change things even if they wanted. We can’t hold them responsible for their actions. They are simply doing what their genetic code mandates.
Fortunately, at some point, what was painful becomes only a mild inconvenience and joy abounds. Before long, those early morning feedings, incessant bouts of crying and disgusting diapers that our children seem so willing to share give way to the good times. Stretches where you believe your child’s behavior is perfect, moments where they are agreeable and routine occasions where your child considers you the smartest person on the planet.
Then out of nowhere – like Florida Evans grieving the death of James – damn, damn, damn…the good times pass away. The child who seemed only moments ago to believe you to be the master of the universe now behaves like Dr. Evil and wants to have complete and total world domination. As inconceivable as it may seem, this adolescent or young adult standing before you (as if from some alternate universe) is once again like the baby you brought home from the hospital – moody, temperamental and leaving a mess for you to clean up.
While your eyes tell you that your child is an adult that you can trust with the car, be anxiety free when they are away at college, and understand what it means to enlist in the military – your mind is as confused as R. Kelly. Unlike R. Kelly though, you know that something is wrong. Although, your child may look grown, their demeanor and behavior tells you that age is more than just a number.
My Mind Is Playing Tricks On Me
The behavior and decision making regression that your child has taken compared to their physical appearance might make it feel like your mind is playing tricks on you. Someone’s mind is certainly playing tricks on them but it isn’t your mind or the Geto Boys. Your child’s mind or more accurately their brain is playing tricks on them.
It appears that the brain and body play a cruel trick on adolescents and young adults. Scientists have uncovered that the critical parts of the brain involved in decision-making are not fully developed until age 25 or so. In lay terms, our children’s brains don’t reach full maturity until they’ve lived for a quarter century.
Your child who looks like an adult is only partially an adult. Their body may say grown but their brain is stamped undeveloped. So you aren’t imagining things when you consider your child’s decision making skills to be impaired because their decision making abilities are challenged.
Exacerbating a child’s poor decision making abilities are their peers. Neuroscientist have discovered that a twenty year old is 50 percent more likely to do something risky if two friends are watching than if he’s alone. This might explain the prevalence of many societal issues that plague our children. Adolescents and young adults make poor decisions because they are grown on the outside and undeveloped adults on the inside.
Make Your Own Luck
Now you know why adolescent children and young adults appear to revert to behavior similar to newborns. Yet despite the cruel joke our genetic coding plays on us, not all parents suffer the same quantity of parenting pains. Parents who understand that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” give themselves an opportunity to experience more joy.
By doing the following, parents can increase the opportunities for joy by preparing themselves for the eventuality of raising someone who looks grown but is not mentally grown:
- Being attentive to the people children associate with especially their peers who – as you now know – also suffer from undeveloped brains.
- Providing additional nurturing and eliminating the custom of putting children out of the house just because they turn 18.
- Granting children adult freedoms without ignoring the need for responsible and vigilant parental supervision.
- Admitting openly that those who look like adults are not always ready for the adult world – even our own children.
Thanks to science we now know that cleaning up a child’s mess, enduring incessant whining, and suffering sleep deprivation is part of the constant joy and pain of parenting. A joy and pain that begins at birth and continues to at least age twenty-five.
So the next time your child says “it’s not my fault” -there may be some truth to their explanation. Their bad behavior and poor decision making might really be the fault of someone else or more accurately something else – our cruel genetic code.