Katie Byrne: 'There are still parents who believe that 18 is the magical age at which a child becomes a fully-fledged adult'

When Anne Hathaway celebrated the third birthday of her son, Jonathan, last month, she didn’t raise a glass to mark the occasion.

The actress has quit drinking because the hangovers made her “unavailable” to her child who, she says, “really does need me all the time in the morning”.

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Hathaway (36) was asked about the decision when she was a guest on the Lorraine show on Monday. She told host Christine Lampard (who was filling in for Lorraine) that her alcohol-free lifestyle is going very well but that she doesn’t plan on being teetotal for life.

“The plan is, I’m only going to do it for the time, I’m going to raise a proper, good human being, get him off to college then move to a vineyard and spend the back half of my life completely sloshed, happy, sun-drenched, that’s the plan!” she said.

It sounds like quite the plan. The problem is that it doesn’t make the actress’s pledge any less divisive.

There are those who will agree with Hathaway’s decision. After all, hangovers get worse with age (and worse again with kids), right?

On the other hand, there are those who wish the actress would keep her simon-pure thoughts to herself — don’t mothers have enough to feel guilty about?

And then there are the people — myself included —  who couldn’t care less about her abstemiousness. They’re much more intrigued by the misguided notion that she only has to get her son to college-going age before she can enjoy a boozy retirement.

Hathaway says she wants to focus on raising her son before she starts drinking again. And while that all sounds very honourable, it also reeks of the “get them to 18” mindset that some parents labour under.

Granted, most parents see parenthood as a lifelong commitment, but there are others who consider it to be an 18-year commitment after which a child stands on their own two feet.

Financial surveys are partly to blame. They tally up how much it costs to raise a child until the age of 18, with no consideration for the rise of adult children living at home, the death of the permanent, pensionable job and the prevalence of socially inept gaming addicts.

From a legal point of view, parents are no longer financially responsible for their children once they turn 18. However, the economic landscape doesn’t always make the transition easy.

Eighteen might be the legal age of adulthood but emotional adulthood tends to come a lot later.

It’s worth remembering that 18-year-old men have only recently matured beyond the habit of drawing penis doodles in copy books — albeit beautifully rendered ones.

Likewise, 18-year-old women are only a few years beyond etching love hearts while bored in class.

Sure, they can leave home, marry and register to vote, but they’re a long way away from rational decision-making and emotional maturity.

We now know that it takes almost 30 years for the brain to reach full maturity. The prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that helps to curb impulsive behaviour — continues to grow long after a person’s 18th birthday.

There are many groups who would like to see this research informing policy, but still we have parents who believe that 18 is the magical age at which a child becomes a fully-fledged adult.

This is the very rationale that encourages parents to delay divorce until their youngest child turns 18. They expect their young adult to be emotionally evolved enough to handle the news, but it doesn’t always go the way they might have planned.

The adult children of divorce — or ‘Acods’ as they are otherwise known — aren’t immune to the emotional trauma that divorce brings. In fact, some would argue that it’s just as hard on them — if not harder.

They still experience the burden of pain, guilt and anger. What’s more, they’re expected to have an “adult” reaction that often involves tending to the parent who finds it most difficult to cope.

It’s easy to understand why some parents think of parenthood as an 18-year commitment. Faced with the unremitting attendance to another human being, they need a milestone — a point at which they can let go of the pressure and start living again.

The trouble, of course, is that you can’t put a deadline on a child’s emotional development, just as you can’t sublimate your own needs into an 18-year crash course in parenting.

There is a long list of life skills that a person should acquire by the age of 18, but the ability to withstand hurt and understand parental folly has never been age-dependent.

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