Are Childish Men on the Rise in Our Society?

Elle Silver

Overparenting may be to blame. I married a man-child and it led to our divorce.
Photo by Dids.

I cooked his meals. I washed his dishes. I picked his clothes up off the floor. I laundered his dirty clothing, folded it, and put it back in its drawers. I ironed what needed to be ironed and hung those garments in the closet. I’m not talking about doing this for my child — I did this for my husband.

I also assumed all the care of our two children. I fed them, bathed them, drove them to school and back, helped with their homework, put them to bed at night, and read them their bedtime stories.

My husband didn’t help with any of this.

Maybe you think he had a demanding job. He was busy at the office all day, working late into the evening. He was gone on the weekends — that’s why I was in charge of everything concerning our children.

This wasn’t the case.

Though my husband was an aspiring real estate investor when I met him, the 2008 real estate crisis destroyed him. After that happened, he didn’t work. He didn’t have to. He had family money to live on.

Therein lay the problem.

He never really had to grow up. He didn’t have to assume the typical duties that most adults do because he had a trust fund.

Though I thought I married a spontaneous, exciting man with a mysterious source of income, in reality, I married a man-child.

But I'm not the only woman who's having to deal with childish men in this day and age. There are more "Peter Pans" in our society than ever.

What is a man-child?

A man-child describes an adult male with the emotional age of a teenager. He refuses to grow up. Maybe he’s unable to. He may never have been encouraged to.

Such men are sometimes referred to as “Peter Pans.” The term “Peter Pan syndrome” was first coined in 1983 by the psychoanalyst, Dr. Dan Kiley.

A man who has the Peter Pan syndrome is trapped in childhood. He can’t grow up. Michael Jackson is perhaps the most famous Peter Pan in recent history — even living on a ranch called “Neverland.”

But there are many less extreme examples of Peter Pans in our society. A man with a Peter Pan syndrome may simply be unable to take care of himself on his own. He may need his parents’ help — and later his wife’s help.

Like my now EX-husband.

Overparenting and waiting too long to get married may be creating more Peter Pans.

Sadly, more and more men are developing a Peter Pan syndrome in our society. Many blame overparenting for the reason so many of today’s men can’t grow up.

Unfortunately, too many modern parents are involved to an almost suffocating degree in their children’s lives. The parenting doesn’t stop when kids leave home and go to college.

University lecturers are reporting an uptick in parents sitting in on meetings, repeatedly calling to ask about their adult children’s progress, and even arguing with instructors about grades.

This isn’t helping young people grow up — it’s impeding them.

Overparenting impacts boys worse than girls. According to Chrystyna Kouros, an assistant professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, the failure of parents to encourage independence in boys can lead to social anxiety and depression later in life.

Writer Kay Hymowitz even goes so far as to blame the rise of the man-child on the fact that today’s generation is waiting so long to get married.

“Traditionally adulthood has begun at marriage,” Hymowitz told Forbes. In our current era, men and women aren’t getting married until well into their thirties, sometimes even their forties.

Men just aren’t growing up like they used to. Waiting so long to get married is having a much more detrimental effect on young men than it is on young women, says Hymowitz.

And so there are more Peter Pans.

Some men never learn to take care of themselves.

There’s another reason some men fail to mature into self-sufficient adults. Many parents aren’t teaching their sons to clean up after themselves.

A 2014 British study found that a third of British adult men didn’t know how to clean the toilet, iron a shirt, or turn on the dishwasher or washing machine. Worse, one in seven British men had moms who still did their laundry.

Moms aren’t even teaching their sons to do their own laundry! This is a problem as more women are working outside the house than ever.

With today’s women pursuing careers to a larger extent than ever in our history, men really should be helping out equally around the house.

This isn’t the case though. Sadly, women are still doing most of the housework.

Studies show that when men help out more around the house, happier marriages result.

Men may not realize that when they continue to languish in a Peter Pan-like lifestyle even when they’re married, divorce can result.

It certainly did in my case.

On the contrary, when men actually help around the house, this can actually deepen a couple’s relationship, even enhance sexual desire between couples.

At least this is what a study carried out by Virginia Rutter at Framingham State University Sociology found. A study published in Feminist Economics also revealed that when husbands take on more responsibility in the housework and childcare, divorce rates are lower.

In short, men should help their wives with the household chores. Otherwise, their marriage may suffer.

Mine certainly did.

I divorced my man-child husband.

When I met my now ex-husband, I fell madly in love with him. It’s tragic that our marriage failed. Of course, I didn’t know he was a man-child at the time. He was spontaneous, exciting, and financially well-endowed.

But looking back, there were signs that he was a man-child from the beginning. While my now former mother-in-law didn’t still do my now ex-husband’s laundry when I met him, his maid did.

She came to his place once a week to wash all the dirty dishes in his sink, pick up his clothes from the floor, and clean his bathroom. I should have seen this as a bad omen. Little did I know that once we got married, I would become my husband’s maid.

That helped pave the way for our divorce.

But sure, our problems went deeper than just the fact that my husband refused to help out around the house. His money wasn’t his own. When he met the first obstacle to his business, he was able to simply stop working.

He didn’t have to find new work because he had family money. He could lie around the house while I waited on him hand and foot.

That wasn’t attractive.

As you can imagine, this led to a lot of arguments, especially once we had kids.

We ultimately divorced.

Make sure your fiancé isn’t a man-child.

In my opinion, parents do their sons a disservice when they don’t train them to help around the house. Boys need to be taught to launder clothes, sweep, mop, and wash dishes — just like girls do. At the very least boys should learn how to use household appliances.

Women also need to look carefully at men’s behavior before they marry them. If a guy doesn’t already pick up after himself, make his own food, or do his own dishes and laundry, maybe there are better options out there.

Don’t make my mistake. Make sure your husband-to-be isn’t a man-child.

I didn’t and he made my life hell.

Now we’re divorced.

Let this be your cautionary tale.

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I'm a relationships expert with a focus on post-divorce dating and family. Everything I've learned about love, I've learned the hard way. You can learn from my mistakes.

Los Angeles, CA

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