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Do you even have a Prefrontal Cortex though?

Did you know that our brains aren’t fully developed until we reach the age of around 25? I learnt this fact recently and it totally blew my (now fully developed) mind. The last part of our brains to finish developing is called the Prefrontal Cortex, and it’s the part in charge of problem solving, impulse control, reasoning and perseverance. Basically it’s the bit of our brain that helps us to make good, rational, well thought out decisions. So up until around this age, we really are just stumbling through life, doing the best we can – with a not totally developed brain.

And I don’t know about you, but I wish I had known this sooner. I considered myself a fully formed adult when I reached 18; I moved out of my parents house, chose to do a degree based purely on the fact it meant I could live in London on a student loan, I traveled as much as I could afford and spent any spare money on ridiculous earrings and vodka-redbulls. I basically lived life with reckless abandon for a while. And that was great, I would encourage  anyone to do the same thing. Sure, I made lots of mistakes, I was carefree and careless (it was a miracle I made it home lots of the time), but I didn’t make an huge life changing decisions… until I did.

After one year of university, I decided that it wasn’t for me. Retrospectively, I really had decided to go for all of the wrong reasons, so dropping out was a decision that I don’t regret. (Frankly, whose idea was it to ask people to pick a career path before their brains have even finished developing?).  I was in love, we moved in together, I got a job, and we basically played at being grown ups for a while. That was all fun and games, until it wasn’t. At the age of 21 I peed on a stick which changed my life forever. Life got serious overnight, and honestly, I was terrified. Not only did I come from a very religious family, and I knew a baby out of wedlock wasn’t exactly top of my parent’s hopes and dreams for me. But I also very much felt like I was playing at being a grown up. Even though technically I was an adult, I still felt about 12 years old. And looking back, knowing what I know now about the fact that my brain WASN’T EVEN FULLY DEVELOPED, I can see that it’s no wonder I felt out of my depth.

The hamster wheel of life kept turning, I became a mother at 22 and I did my very best. But I always felt like I had something to prove as a young mum. I felt I had to do more, be more, and defend every single teeny tiny choice I made for my child and how I was raising her. I became obsessed with reading all the advice, listening to all the opinions and overthinking every decision. I was constantly on edge, expecting to be challenged, waiting for someone to realise that I was out of my depth and that someone else could do a better job of raising my baby than me. Motherhood overwhelmed me, and now I look back I can see I was drowning for so many years before I came up for air. I didn’t even realise I was living in survival mode at the time. But I was.

It seems like such a tiny piece of information that our brains don’t fully develop until our mid to late twenties. But, knowing it now, I have so much more compassion for the past version of me, who was raising a baby, and still felt very much like a baby herself. I was making huge decisions about how to raise my child without a developed Prefrontal Cortex to help me make those decisions. I was overwhelmed and overstimulated by motherhood and I didn’t yet have all of the part of my brain that could have helped me to regulate myself.

Early motherhood is hard for all of us and I will never know what it’s like to have a baby and a fully developed brain at the same time. I’m pretty sure my baby days are over, so I will never have anything to compare with. Plus the first baby is always the hardest in my opinion. That’s when you feel most out of your depth, it’s all new, and overwhelming. So I only have my own experiences and theories to go on. My experience doesn’t devalidate yours; none of us have walked in each other’s shoes.

I think about things a lot. I mull things over. I find our brains and our development as humans fascinating. So this has just become a topic that interests me.

I sometimes feel like I’ve recently woken up in this life. Maybe it’s because the fog of early motherhood has cleared and I can think my own thoughts again. But sometimes I look around at my life and I have no idea how I got here. I feel like a totally different person to the person who made all the decisions that got me to this exact moment. And that’s not to say I would change any of it, I just recognise that I feel different with age, and I’m sure that having a fully developed brain must have something to do with that.

Do I regret having my children when I did? Of course not. I wouldn’t change them for the world. And if I hadn’t had them when I did, they wouldn’t be the same incredible little people that they are today. But if I could end up with the exact same children, then yes – I would go back and wait until I was older. I would have lived recklessly for longer, before I took  on such a huge responsibility. I would have let my brain develop completely first. And I will absolutely be doing my best to encourage my children to live a little more before they make any crazy, life altering decisions like getting married or having babies or signing up to go and live on Mars. I will be constantly reminding them about their underdeveloped brains, until they reach the grand old age of 25 – when I will bake them a cake that says ‘YAY, YOUR BRAIN IS NOW COMPLETE’ in icing. I’m not sure if I’m joking about that or not.

Maybe I’ve thought about this too much, maybe motherhood is the same universally overwhelming experience at any age. Maybe it’s not a big deal. Maybe I’m just clutching at straws trying to figure out why I found the early years so incredibly hard. Maybe I have no idea what I’m talking about. And I’m really just writing this for my own benefit, so feel free to ignore and disregard everything you have just read.

But fully growing your own brain before growing an entire human, just seems like a good idea to me.

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