He’s Not a Child (Even if He Acts Like One!)

We’ve probably all heard a mother with three children talk about her four kids – calling her husband the forth.

I don’t like hearing that, but honestly, I understand why some women feel that way. I’ve run into more than a few 30ish-year-old men who act more like teenagers half the time.

He’s Not a Child (Even if He Acts Like One!)

But it’s not just men and it’s not just happening in the States. Google “failure to launch” and you will find a slew of articles about young adults finishing college and moving back in with mom and dad. Look internationally and you find many countries have words for these individuals – from “Hikikomori” in Japan and “Tanguy Syndrome” in France to “KIPPERS” (kids in parents’ pockets eroding retirement savings) in England and “Boomerang Children” in Canada.

There’s plenty of finger-pointing and blaming, much of it backed by some study or theory. If you have teenage children I suggest doing some research on the issue so you can help your children “launch well”. But what do you do if you think your husband falls just short of a failure to launch?

First realise calling him a child, either to his face or behind his back, only makes it worse. It’s human nature to live up to or down to the expectations of others, and if he knows you think he’s childish he is more likely to act childish. Expecting the best is a better plan, especially if you can do so realistically. Beyond that, I think there are some real gender differences in how we mature and how we see maturity. Understanding this will help.

  • Male brains take longer to develop than female brains. There’s a lot of debate on when our brains reach full development. Some say as old as the late 30’s, but most put it in the mid 20’s for men and a bit earlier for women. Several studies have shown the PFC (prefrontal cortex) becomes fully developed in women years earlier than in men. The PFC is involved in impulse control and being able to plan to reach a goal. I’ve seen age differences on this from 2 to 6 years.
  • Men tend to be more wide-ranging in their daily expression of maturity. He can “act his age” while he’s at work, but then seems to regress by a decade or more on the way home. I think part of this is because the jobs most men do in our modern world are not good fits for the brains God gave us. At work we don’t get to express and enjoy parts of ourselves that God intended us to use, so we then compensate when we’re not at work.
  • Becoming a mother affects a woman’s brain. The hormones of pregnancy and childbirth literally change a woman’s brain. Parenthood changes men too, but it’s a less direct and less rapid process.
  • We now see much of the world through a female lens. This makes some male things seem odd or wrong. In reality, some of these things are good and necessary for a healthy society. Some of what you wish your husband would grow out of is actually something God wants you to embrace. (And some of it is not – the trick is knowing which is which!)

Much of this is a matter of different, not wrong. If you can accept that truth you will be better able to navigate the issue. Stop focusing on his behaviour and look at his accomplishments. Is he doing the things he needs to do? If so, cut him some slack in his off time. If he’s not doing what he needs to be doing, focus on those things without making it an issue of maturity.

~ Paul – I’m XY, and at 55 I still like to have fun!

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17 Comments on “He’s Not a Child (Even if He Acts Like One!)

  1. My own husband calls himself my child unprompted. When I argue to the contrary, he just smiles and insists that I am the mom, the boss, and he is another kid because I take care of him…and he enjoys it. A friend of mine complained on facebook when her husband acted childish, and their male friends jumped right in saying that most men really are just big kids and women should accept that and be prepared to mother them.

    • @Libl – Yeah, I hear and see that too. I don’t find it a good thing, and it certainly doesn’t make for a healthy marriage. I’m guessing a woman can feel maternal or sexual towards someone, but not both.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Go Away. Together!My Profile

      • For Christian men, I would think that manhood is the actual goal, and that being a Peter Pan wouldn’t be all that attractive. What comes to mind is Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

        When a man marries, he is saying that he is ready to assume the full responsibilities of being a man, and is no longer a child.

        But, then, that’s just me, I guess.
        CSL recently posted…Bad Teaching: Women Rule, Men Drool, part 3My Profile

  2. For me it’s frustrating when my husband leaves his dirty clothes on the floor, his dishes in the sink, and his stuff all over the house yet expects our children who are now teens to keep their rooms clean, dishes in the dishwasher, and their stuff picked up. My children have complained to me more than once that if daddy isn’t going to do it why is it such a big deal to him if they don’t do it. Their point is that he isn’t leading by example. He is extremely smart, has advance to high levels in his career which he loves, but there are times I just need him to be serious for a few minutes to help me by being a partner in parenting. I’m way too serious most of the time so his fun side forces me to relax and have fun too. He’s always telling me to lighten up. I think I’m overcompensating for him not being serious when he needs to be and it’s just a frustrating situation.

    • @TB – It may be you are both overcompensating. Try talking about the places you each need to be more like the other, and how to make that happen.
      Leading by example is always an important factor, and it’s how I would address it with him.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Go Away. Together!My Profile

  3. I have told my husband at times that, when he leaves messes all over and doesn’t make an effort to clean up after himself or close doors or put his trash and dirty laundry in the correct places, I end up feeling like I have another child. And that it hurts our relationship, sexual and otherwise. Is that unfair?

    • @Laura – I think it is fair to tell him that picking up after him makes you feel negative about him and puts you off sex.
      But I would avoid making it about being childish. My son was very neat from a very young age, and I know people who are OCD neat but very immature. I also know very mature people who are very messy.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Go Away. Together!My Profile

  4. Interesting post.

    I stopped maturing a long time ago, when I saw combat. Something in my brain switched off at that point; there was no need to develop further, as I could never be so awesome I was then.

    It’s caused problems; my wife comes from a tradition in which different generations were very much part of the scene, and people were expected to take their place, so to speak, as they got older. I think she rather resents that I’m not ‘growing older with her’, but there’s no way I can.

    And the truth is, I don’t want to. Even though I’m very ill, I still see the world as a place in which “I can beat any man in any land at any game that he can name for any amount that he can count.”

    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser recently posted…Your Dying Spouse 268 – Lessons From The Super BowlMy Profile

    • @Andrew Budek-Schmeisser – As long as people are honest about who they are when they are dating, I don’t see an issue with this. (And I know you were honest about who you were!) The problem is when someone pretends to be something they are not to get a spouse and then reverts after the wedding. (And I see both sexes do it.)
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Go Away. Together!My Profile

  5. I think the big struggle is when he does things that make me think less of him yet I am supposed to respect him. Being silly is fine, but when I have problems or need advice or want to talk seriously, I don’t want a goofball who tells me to stop being so uptight.

    Women want strong men in their lives. Have a sense of humor, be fun, be interesting, but be an adult.

    Years ago, I used to think “If you are not going to act like a grown man, what is the point of you in the family?”

    Many women come to the conclusion “I’m better off without him.” in cases like this.

    I struggle see how they’re wrong.

    • @Madeline12 – I can’t make much of an argument with you. The real solution is to have a better grasp on who someone is before you marry them, but it’s too late for that for women married to a man who lacks maturity.
      There are good and bad ways to address this, and while the good may not help, the bad will pretty much always make it worse.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…Go Away. Together!My Profile

      • Remember, lots of people marry young. What might seem mature and fun at 20 and childless can look really immature and pathetic at 40 and a houseful of kids and responsibilities.

        Seriously, what would happen to your kids and home if SHE locked herself in the bedroom after work and watched TV all evening?!

        • @Libl – I think age change is a factor for many couples. And with women reaching brain maturity earlier it can be a problem.

          As to your question, I’d say about the same thing that happens when a woman spends most of her waking time on social media or reading fiction. The genders do it differently, but it’s not exclusively a male thing.
          Paul Byerly recently posted…Learn to Be HandyMy Profile

  6. I always said that I wouldn’t complain about my husband’s quirky habits….They are reminders to me that I live with a man that I love and who loves me. I would rather pick up his dirty clothes than him not be here and me not have any dirty clothes to worry about. I smile and laugh because…men are such…MEN! ;) And my man makes my world go ’round.

  7. Not excusing, just explaining.

    Many men had “life” thrust upon them very early, through physical or sexual abuse; through having to become the “man of the house” when a father died, left, or was essentially absent; through whatever circumstances prevented them from “being a kid.” I would add to that the increasing feminization of society that doesn’t allow boys to be boys. Just watch boys on a playground with mom or with dad.

    When a young man finally is given the legal authority to order his own life, he may in effect be saying to himself, Now I can have the fun I missed out on. It is to be hoped that he grows out of this before he gets married, but often not. Many young single men are still chained to a hard job with little time to relax, or they may still be hearing the voices (usually female) that told him when he was a boy to grow up already!

    A plea to wives and mothers: let your boys be boys. And recognize that your man may still have some “boy” issues unresolved. I’m very fortunate in that my wife does treat me like a man. Except in one area: when we’re in the car, she treats me like a teenage driver. I just let it slide because it’s a rather small thing for me to get upset over.

    Does any of this ring a bell with anyone else, man or woman?

    • @Bobthemusicguy – Being forced to grow up is hit and miss – some guys become mature early while others just fake it and try to look mature while actually getting stunted.

      Not letting boys be boys is a huge issue, and may be the biggest reason for the growing number of men who still act like teens. I am blessed that Lori allowed our son to be a boy and do boy things. Some of it was difficult for her, and some of it was scary, but she did it and our son is a better and more mature man because she did.

      Even as men, and as mature men, we have needs women do not have and do not understand. If we are able to meet these needs in sane ways it’s all good. When a man feels he is not allowed to do what he must those desires end up coming out in other, less healthy ways. I suspect some of the push to use porn is fed by this.

      As to driving, the image I choose for this post was intentionally about driving. This is a major conflict point for many couples. I suspect some men drive like crazy people because it is one of the places they are living out their need for adventure. But there is more to it than that. I have a post touching on it next week or the week after.
      Paul Byerly recently posted…“You’re More Important to Me Than My Penis”My Profile

      • One thought on the driving that helps me see it as an opportunity for grace. I’m very used to driving in very heavy traffic among crazy drivers (Houston freeways) and so I am used to situations my wife is not accustomed to. So when I’m in a situation where I take what I see as a reasonable risk, she sees it very differently. I used to get all huffy about it (sometimes still do), but God showed me that it is a chance to see something through someone else’s eyes. And whose eyes better than my own wife’s eyes? When she and I are in the car together, I try to remember this, and also remember what a different driver I was when I was bringing here home from the hospital with our first baby. My ego is far less important than such precious cargo.

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