Days, Weeks, Months, and Years: How Many Ways Do We Count the Age of Our Precious Little Ones?
Have you ever wondered why we describe age in terms of days, weeks, and months for the very young but are not so precise after a child reaches the age of 3? Or to take the opposite tack, why are we so vague about the age (or definition for) when adulthood begins? I mean, can your 28 year old, unemployed high-school drop-out younger brother be considered an adult when he’s still at home and Mom and Dad pay all the bills?
There are several reasons age is treated differently over the course of the lifespan. Some of these reasons are based on science, others are mainly cultural. Still other age specifications are designed to meet institutional needs, such as when we start and finish a required amount of schooling—not whether or not we actually got educated during that long and laborious process (see younger brother, above).
So let’s start with a cultural definition of age. If we were in Eastern Asia, age is reckoned, not counted. Time in the womb is considered part of the first year of life. The second birthday occurs at the lunar New Year when everyone in that culture advances in age by one year, regardless of the number of days of life outside the womb. So yes, it’s possible to be 2 years old in Korea or China, when you would be only months old by Western standards!
In Western cultures, we count forward from the time of birth. Naturally, we have to use days, weeks, or months as the descriptor of baby’s age, at least until the 365th day, when we proudly announce Baby’s first birthday. Worldwide, we rely on science to tell us what should be happening with Baby during those all important early years. So some of us—the obsessed high achievers—are not satisfied with simply tracking the rapid pace of development. We start calibrating Baby’s progress.
There is a good reason to calibrate. Science has proven that the first five years are intensely rich in brain and body development. If you notice that your baby is impaired in some way, you can obtain the support and advice from early intervention/prevention services. But the somewhat less redeeming reason for calibrating is because we want to inflate or deflate our baby’s age so our little ones look good in the eyes of others.
Shame! Shame! Especially since the irony of our age obsession is that no matter what we are doing, our children are thinking, “I’m not a baby, I’m ready to walk.” “I’m not three; I’m 3 and one half!” And at the ripe old age of six, are very likely to say, “You don’t know everything. My teacher shows me how to learn.” Yes, whether we reckon, count, or calibrate our definitions of age, our children will move forward, seeking mastery and independence from the boundaries we set.