Humans provide more care for their offspring than animals. Not only do children, on average, spend more time with their parents, they also receive far more from them. These days a child might stay on their parents’ health insurance up to the age of 26, which is a quarter or more of their life.
Historically people became adults at a much younger age. Take, for instance, this exchange from Romeo and Juliet:
My child is yet a stranger in the world,
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years;
Let two more summers wither in their pride
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.
Younger than she are happy mothers made.
My oldest is turning 20 in a few months and while we continue to support him financially, he’s his own person in every other way. Our work forming his character has pretty much ended.
Our Sunday School teacher, who is also a principal, compares raising children to climbing a mountain. Infants are completely helpless. They have a rooting reflex and crying instincts, but depend on an adult to take care of all of their needs. If they are to make any progress at all, someone needs to carry them. After a year or so, children can walk, but stay close to their parents for safety and comfort. It’s like the gentle slope approaching the base of a mountain.
Now that they are 10, my twins are at the age when they can run ahead on the trail. This year they started walking to and from school on their own. We’re still close enough to help out, but they are taking care of more and more of their own needs without our intervention:
- Preparing snacks and lunch
- Washing their own clothes
- Finishing homework
- Bedtime routine and getting ready for school
They are even starting to help the rest of the family by washing the dishes.
As they grow, our support will be more and more passive. Metaphorically we’ll hold the belay lines as they explore the world. The other day my daughter went to the mall with her friend (and her friend’s mom). We gave her spending money, but she made all the decisions about what to buy. The consequences of failure are so low right now that it’s an ideal time to make mistakes and learn from them.
I’m not sure what other mammals think of their young maturing and becoming independent. I suspect they mostly are glad to be rid of the burden. As a human parent, I’m wishing we had a bit more time. It brings me joy to see my children grow up, but I’m preparing for when my role as father will change to be a lot less involved in my childrens’ lives.
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their fathers.—Proverbs 17:6 (ESV)
Yesterday, I had to walk some books down to school that my son forgot. ↩︎