I was at a conference over the weekend where the presenter used a term I find fantastic to describe parenting. She said parents are the young child’s “surrogate amygdala” while we attempt to teach our kids emotional control and how to make good decisions. Children do not have the capacity to apply what they know about right and wrong to their decision making at the time.
The amigdala is an almond shaped part of the brain in the middle of our temporal lobes, and it plays a central role in our emotional learning. The amigdala is the part of the brain which determines the prominence of memories which invokes fear and shame or pride and joy. Not surprisingly, it takes until around the age of 25 for the amigdala to fully develop.
Until then parents must continue to watch their children do crazy things. I noted she said men typically have larger amygdalae than women. I know O is the most emotional of our kids by a wide margin which supports this assertion, and J chimed in confirming little boys cry more than little girls. I guess society teaches us to choke down our emotions and “be a man.” Still, I can not help but wonder if O’s brain damage as an infant will always leave him more susceptible to the often harshest of his emotions.
J and I will just have to live up to the surrogate roll. I just hope we can do so teaching him we don’t pee on the carpet at the top of the stairs because it makes our parents angry even if our sister thinks it would be funny. If we can stop such madness while still allowing the creative freedom of expression and comedy to think of dressing in a wedding dress and a Spiderman mask in order to save the day, then I will judge our surrogacy a success.
Still sometimes, I find myself going back to my father-in-law’s words on the hardest part of parenting being “remembering to not get angry with a kid for acting their age.” Perspective is difficult to maintain when a boy sprays a heating lamp with water and then describes how cool it was to have the light bulb explode. Of all the dunderheaded things done by our children this week, this was the one I understood the best. Curiosity can lead to unfortunate results, but at least it’s not malicious. We all have to learn. It’s just some things are better learned through logic, asking and stories than personal experimentation.
“Paging Surrogate Amygdala! You are needed to instill proper fear of eye damage and burned down houses.”