Definition of Adulthood

Rabbi Moshe New in Montreal, defines being grown up as: “the ability to fully integrate that which we know, practically.” He then goes on to reference the Kabbalah, which has a Hebrew word for this: da’at. Da’at is usually translated as “to know,” but according to Rabbi New, it also means “to connect.”

So if I understand this statement, Rabbi New says that adulthood is a way of turning what we know into a practical application, and therefore knowledge creates behavior.  And this connection between knowing and doing is what makes an adult.

It’s interesting, no?

On the one hand, I do agree. The process of integrating knowledge, belief, and action is definitely an important adult trait. But I think there’s so much more to adulthood.

Childhood is a time when nearly everything is done for you, and nearly everything is given to you. Adulthood is a time when almost nothing is done for you, and almost nothing is given to you. And the growing up part? That’s what comes in between.

As a parent, I’m finding it difficult to find that balance. I love my kids and a big part of me wants to make their lives easier. But on the other hand, I don’t want to give my kids everything — the benefit of every doubt, the easy way out, solving all their problems for them. They need to make that transition between childhood and adulthood, not all at once, but slowly, in steps.

So, when my 14-year-old doesn’t start his English paper until 9:30 pm and struggles with understanding Shakespeare — do I help him? Or do I let him struggle and perhaps fail, but maybe learn an important lesson? When my 11-year-old prefers to do things entirely “by myself, mom!” do I remind her for the 400th time to bring her soccer gear to school since she’ll be going directly to practice, or I do I let her forget a few times in hopes of learning that lesson?

I remember those same questions when they were smaller, but the topics were different. When my daughter was a newborn, I didn’t expect her to sleep through the night. By the time she was 18 months, I surely did. But where, in between, would I set limits in order to encourage sleep? It was a difficult balance. Where to draw the line?

Parenting, to me, is helping my kids become adults. And adulthood is about independence, making your own choices, and understanding that no one owes you much. But helping my kids get there? That’s not something I find easy to do.

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8 Responses to Definition of Adulthood

  1. Laura says:

    I’m a big believer in kids learning and growing through “natural consequences.” That is, if they forget something and then find out what happens when they forget, or procrastinate and find out what happens when they do, they are more likely not to repeat the action, and will modify or change their behavior on their own. The consequences can be adjusted to fit the age of the child, but in my experience kids “get it” pretty quickly and adjust their future actions. If they know Mom or Dad is going to take over of cover for them then there’s no incentive to change or adjust.

    Natural consequences are different from support. We can remind our children of things, help to keep them on task, or answer questions, but the outcome is left up to them.

    I think we all recognize or know adults who never learned the lesson of natural consequences, and expect everyone to adjust to their behavior or schedule or needs.

  2. Thanks for sharing this link with me! I agree with you, and I’m big into letting my kids fail.

    And yes, “I’m sorry” is a nice sentiment, but it was just empty words! So I want her to want to please us, but I want her to change her actions too (to grow up, maybe!!).

  3. Mama Minou says:

    This is a very challenging issue! As the parent of a teen and pre-teen, I’m struggling with this in a big way. If your child really doesn’t care much about the natural consequences (failing a class), but you as the parent do, or if the natural consequences would be harder on the parent (getting self to school (unlikely) without disturbing work-from-home parent)…what to do then? It’s really not clear cut.

    • You’ve nailed it, Mama. I find the “natural consequences” advice to be cavalier and simplistic, and I’m sure that even those who are offering that counsel don’t really believe it. This is a question for which there is no One True Answer(TM). Kids (and adults) can be like the scorpion:

      Once there was a scorpion who came to a river he wanted to cross, but of course scorpions can’t swim. He spied a pig nearby and approached him. “I need to get across that river. Would you carry me, please?”

      “Are you kidding? You’ll sting me!” replied the pig.

      “No, I won’t! Think about it: if I sting you we’ll both die in the river.”

      The pig thinks about that for a moment and finally says, “Ok, I’ll carry you.” The scorpion climbs on his back and they start across the river. Sure enough, halfway across the river the scorpion stings the pig.

      “What???” cried the pig. “Now we’ll BOTH die! Why did you do that?”

      “I’m a scorpion,” replied the scorpion. “It’s in my nature.”

      Sometimes people do things that seem obviously against their better interests, possibly even with dire consequences, just because it’s in their nature. Teens in particular want all the freedoms and authority associated with adulthood with none of the responsibilities and obligations. Most eventually “get it”, but it’s usually a really painful process in the mean time for both teen and parent. And so far as I can tell, it’s pure guesswork to determine when it’s appropriate to “impose” assistance, when to lay down the law, and when to let “natural consequences” take their course.

  4. Orna says:

    It’s a month after the last comment on this topic, but these questions will always be relevant, so here’s how I look at it. Our kids are teens, and growing so quickly that in no time they’ll have left the house and be off on their own journey. If they need help with a homework assignment and we take the time to help them when they ask, they will take with them on their journey the knowledge that we are there for them whenever they need us. That support will give them strength. As I see it, there are plenty of natural consequences to go around. I remember seeing a small child having a major tantrum at a park because a butterfly flew away and the mom was expected to retrieve it for child to hold. There was nothing the mom could do, so in a way it was a natural consequence for both – and nature provided it.

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