[Week 10 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Getting a grip on maturity
When is a person mature? Is it when he or she reaches a certain age? Is it when a driver’s test can be passed? Perhaps it is when a person can refrain from fruitless argument?
Maturity is often claimed as a measure for independence, or when a person can be recognized as an adult. Yet everyone knows adults they would describe as immature. Maybe the concept of maturity is not well understood or used consistently.
Understanding physical maturity helps to understand mental maturity
Let’s start by distinguishing between physical and mental maturity. Physical maturity is easier to measure. I think we can accept that maturity means “having reached a point of optimum potential use or ability” and we can say that a person is physically mature when all physical functions are fully operational.
This helps us with the definition of mental maturity, since it is restricted to potential. Consider this example: a person who is physically mature has the potential to procreate, but they do not have to procreate to be physically mature. The potential is all that matters.
Similarly, someone who is mentally mature has the potential to make helpful decisions. That does not mean he will. In both cases, the person may choose how fully to take advantage of the state of mature capabilities.
Maturity is not the same as wisdom
Having obtained a state of maturity is not the same as having experience or wisdom. It is mental maturity that makes it possible to learn from experience or handle mistakes. Hopefully, this will in turn result in increasing wisdom. Mental maturity is the potential to problem solve.
A little observation will remind us that maturity cannot be dependent on having all the necessary information to make a decision. Not only are we all always learning as individuals, but what is accepted as general knowledge is very subject to change. Think about adventurous people have frequently been labeled immature, but over time their adventures lead to discoveries that we all benefit from.
Responsibility whether you want it or not
The counter point to having the potential to make a useful decision is having the potential to bear the responsibility for it. Here we must differentiate between legal restrictions on bearing responsibility and mental potential to bear responsibility. It also doesn’t matter whether or not a person reacts to the responsibility poorly or chooses to act childlike. The fact remains that there is a point where a person can bear responsibility. Most adults recognize this and don’t want to bear other people’s responsibility.
Fortunately, physical maturity closely coincides with mental maturity. This combination gives a newly mature person the ability to claim maturity in practice. It also serves to remind naysayers of the obvious.
Artificial constraints on maturity
Unfortunately, people still try to disagree about maturity and impose artificial limits on it. As long as a majority of people pick a certain parameter, it can be difficult to go against the flow.
No matter what legal or cultural limits are imposed, parents can still choose to recognize maturity in their own children once those children have grown into young adults. This will go a long way toward relieving the strain the young adults may feel as they are denied basic respect as adults. If this is done, the young adult will be more considerate about helping the parents deal with legal stress imposed on parents in pro-longing their parenting role unnaturally.
Guiding your children toward maturity
If parents have been helping their children to think and make decisions all along, in ways appropriate to levels of childhood, this transition can go quite smoothly. A parent won’t need to and shouldn’t resort to rants about a young adult “growing up” because everyone already has the correct point of view about maturity.
Let me make it clear that I am not talking about treating young children like adults. Giving them appropriate opportunities is important. Guarding them from their own immaturity is also important.
A young child probably doesn’t have the mental maturity to be responsible for choosing what to eat all the time, but he can handle choices about whether or not to eat a specified amount of nutritious food so that he can have dessert. The parent is accepting responsibility for the child’s health, while still giving the child choices about immediate priorities.
An older child might need to be protected from immature decisions about some friendships, but he can still be allowed most choices about who he likes to hang out with and what they will do together. The parent accepts responsibility for guarding the child from harmful influences, but the child learns to take initiative in building relationships.
Maturity doesn’t mean not asking for advice
The hope is that the parent-child relationship matures as the children matures. Then, when adulthood is reached, the young adults are receptive to information and advice. Sometimes it will be asked for. Other times they trust the parent to offer what they don’t know enough to ask. But they all know the decisions are up to the young adults.
It would be nice if reaching maturity was as obvious as being born. As it is, an older child can think he is mature before he is. Or a parent might mistake youthful exuberance for immaturity. Still, parents are in the best position to recognize and encourage maturity in their children.
Fly! Be Free!
I remember an old Mork and Mindy episode where Mork misidentified the maturity of an egg. He was horrified that it was being kept in a box in the refrigerator. In seeking to release it, he threw it up in the air and called out, “Fly! Be free!” But the egg lay broken and useless on the counter practically before he was done speaking.
We don’t want to do that to our children. We don’t want them crushed by adult responsibility before they are ready. However, we do want them to fly and be free when they have their full-feathered wings, for only in using those wings will they experience the full joy of living.