In this day and age, the bar has been raised for men when it comes to maturity. I don’t mean maturity in terms of outdated gender-stereotyped characteristics. Men of today are beginning to be held to a higher standard, and judged when they don’t meet it. Being “manly” no longer means acting tough, masking vulnerability, making displays of strength, or being catered to by others (especially women). Instead, men today are expected to be emotionally intelligent, competent at household chores, capable caregivers, responsible, and kind.
The changing expectations of men are revealing more and more of a creature popularly known as the “man-child.” Because we now expect more of men, it seems we are discovering that many men are in fact not fully grown to maturity in a number of ways. They are, sadly, stuck in a child-like stage of development.
My theory is that there are in fact three general stages of male maturity, and the man-child is unfortunately not the worst of them. While grown-ass men are the gold standard of what we can hope for, there are still a frighteningly large number of men who fall far below that standard. Sometimes, man-child is not accurate—enter, the man-baby.
Man-baby, man-child, and grown-ass man have several very important distinctions. Let’s dive in, shall we?
Areas of comparison will include emotional maturity, contribution to the home and childcare when applicable, conflict resolution skills, and overall competence in life.
Man-baby is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to all of these areas. First of all, he doesn’t understand feelings. He either thinks they are silly and beneath him, pretending to have none whatsoever, or he believes that his feelings are of the utmost importance above the feelings of all others. When man-baby is upset, he throws tantrums. Sometimes, these tantrums can be silent, but don’t be mistaken. Refusing to communicate feelings is man-baby behavior, and giving the silent treatment is arguably no better than a full blown tantrum with shouting, crying, making threats, using unkind words, and maybe even throwing things.
Man-child is more mature with his feelings than man-baby, but he still hasn’t reached his full potential. He may have smaller tantrums, or shorter-lived periods of giving the silent treatment. But man-child is different, because he catches himself in these moments of weakness (which most of us have from time to time—nobody is perfect!), and he course-corrects. Man-child is working on himself, and learning to be better.
Grown-ass man isn’t perfect either, of course. But he is emotionally mature and self-aware enough that he doesn’t fall into child-like behaviors during times of emotional stress. He uses healthy coping strategies and good communication, and he genuinely considers and cares about the feelings of others.
Contribution to household chores and childcare, when applicable, is possibly the easiest area to spot the differences between the man-baby, man-child, and grown-ass man. Man-baby does not do chores—it is as simple as that. If asked to do a chore, in fact, he will be offended and liable to throw a tantrum. He will mansplain why he shouldn’t be expected to cook or clean or manage the home in any way, because he works outside of the home. He doesn’t understand that work inside the home is just as taxing, and often requires more time and energy. If he has a partner who works outside the home as well, he seems to disregard that and insist that household chores are “women’s work.” He is entitled, spoiled, and often ungrateful for his partner’s contributions.
When it comes to childcare, man-baby is of no use. He is a baby himself, so he could not and should not be expected to care for children with any level of competence. Not only would he be unwilling to do so, but even if he were, it would not be a safe situation for the child. He would likely get distracted by video games, decide to take a nap, or otherwise neglect to care for the basic needs and safety of any child in his care.
Man-child is a big improvement over man-baby when it comes to sharing a home. He doesn’t do chores on his own; that would require taking independent and equal responsibility for home management, which he still doesn’t do. But, when asked, man-child will usually help. He may at times have a bit of an attitude about it; he may complain that he’s tired, or sigh and groan, or simply “forget” to do what he’s been asked. Still, he is willing to help out, and that is better than nothing.
He also is willing to help out with the children when necessary. He will babysit, step in to discipline at times, and be a present and significant part of special family moments. He doesn’t usually complain about these duties, because he knows that he chose to become a father and that these tasks come with the territory. Like all parents, of course, he does get worn out and understands that parenting is often times exhausting—but his understanding of this exhaustion is nowhere near as deep as his partner’s, since they are still the one handling the brunt of the childcare duties.
Grown-ass man is once again the higher standard here. He doesn’t wait for his partner to ask him to “help” with chores. He doesn’t see it as “helping” at all, because he knows that he is equally responsibly for household chores. He is simply doing his part, and he doesn’t need to be managed by his partner like a child needs to be managed by their parent. Grown-ass man takes an enormous burden from his partner—not just the burden of doing endless chores, but the mental burden of single-handedly managing a home.
As a father, grown-ass man is an equal partner. He may or may not be the primary caregiver during the workday, depending on whether his partner works and what their family dynamic is, but in any case he is still a primary caregiver to his children because he is a fully invested parent. If he works outside of the home (figuratively or literally), he doesn’t finish work and then expect a “break” before assuming childcare duties. He knows that parenting is a full-time job, and he jumps right in. He is equally competent with his partner at all parenting responsibilities. He changes diapers without a second thought, kisses boo-boos, and talks about feelings with his kids. Grown-ass man is not just a glorified sperm donor like man-baby, or a babysitter like man-child. Grown-ass man is Dad.
In conflict resolution, man-baby is pathetic. He doesn’t listen to other’s points of view or give them any consideration. He doesn’t communicate clearly, or sometimes at all. He believes it should be his way or the highway. Nobody wants to be stuck in a relationship with man-baby.
Man-child is an improvement. He can still be often unreasonable and insensitive, and his communication skills are frequently lacking. But, he is once again learning. He realizes his mistakes (with help, sometimes), and he is capable of apologizing and trying to do better next time. When he has a problem that he would like his partner to address, he is able to bring it up in a way that is sensitive and constructive—eventually. His first attempts might be less than ideal.
Grown-ass man is a great communicator, empathetic, and open-minded. He doesn’t insist on his own way with things, and he truly cares more about his relationships than his process. He apologizes when he makes mistakes, and he advocates for himself in ways that are both assertive and kind. When his partner has a concern, he fully invests himself into his role of supporting them in whatever way is needed.
Lastly, we can compare the men on this continuum in terms of their general competence in life.
It comes as no surprise that man-baby is severely incompetent. Not only is he unwilling to contribute to the care of others, but he is incapable of even caring for himself. He expects others to do everything for him, and he doesn’t know the first thing about basic life skills.
Of course, man-child isn’t as far from the mark as that. He possesses some life skills, especially in areas where he has been taught by others. Any skills that have been required of him for his job or basic functioning in life are present and in good working order. Skills that he hasn’t been required to learn, however, are lacking. He doesn’t take initiative to learn new things, or improve himself. And, even in areas where he is competent, he would rather let others do things for him when possible.
Grown-ass man goes out of his way to learn new things, improve his competence, and become a more well-rounded person. He is good at many things, and not just things perceived as “masculine” activities. He knows how to handle himself in life, from his career to his finances to his relationships and beyond. He is a fully-functional adult.
Now, while these stages of development are fairly easy to distinguish between, it is important to note that most men don’t fall into only one stage. Men can have times where they regress to man-baby and times when they act like the grown-ass men they biologically are. They can also have some areas in which they are total man-babies, but other areas where they are remarkably grown-ass.
And, to be fair, this spectrum of maturity is not limited to men. Women and non-binary people all have varying levels of maturity in various areas of their lives. It’s just fun to point out these challenges in men because, well, in our highly patriarchal society, men have so many unfair advantages and are often given so much more slack than women are that it can be therapeutic in a way to take them down a peg. Basically, as a woman, I am expected to be fully-grown as a general rule—yet men are often not treated this same way. It’s time to call out the man-babies and man-children. It’s time to ask for better.
If you are a grown-ass man, then I know you know that you don’t deserve a gold medal for this. But even so, I do want to thank you. Because you are exhibiting a new, higher standard for men everywhere, and the more of you that are out there, the less we will have to put up with the men who aren’t meeting that standard. So thanks, and keep up the good work!
If you are a man-baby, I don’t think you will have read this. You may not even know how to read. And if you do, I suspect, you find it to be a boring or unmanly activity. But if by some miracle you have read this, I know it is highly likely you are now extremely offended and probably defensive. But the truth is, you have nobody to blame but yourself. Just stop being a man-baby and act your age, alright? You’ll do a lot better in life that way.
Lastly, if you are a man-child, I want to congratulate you on progressing past infancy, and encourage you to continue your journey into maturity. Keep improving. It’s time to finish growing up! You can do it.