Am I An Adult Yet?
I turn 39 soon. Even though I’ve already suffered through a midlife crisis, I still don’t feel like an adult. In fact, I feel I’ve grown less mature as the years have progressed.
I was a very mature kid. By the time I turned 10 I had lived in two houses, four apartments and attended at least as many schools. By the time I was 14 I had been through my parents’ divorce and a custody battle. By the time I graduated high school, I was pretty sure I knew who I was and what I wanted.
I was rebellious, said “No” a lot (loudly), and was frustrated by my inability to make choices I thought were mine to make.
When I turned 30, I married, had a son, and became as tired and cranky as a newborn.
Since then I’ve started growing up again. But I’m not sure I’ve quite crossed the threshold into adulthood.
I asked my 8-year-old son, Colter, what makes someone an adult. He said adults:
Go to work
Are 20 or older
I’ve done all those things and yet I’m not quite there.
My husband, Gary, remembers the first time he felt like an adult. He was 14 years old and working behind the counter of a balloon-popping game at an amusement park. Kids called him “sir” because he had the authority to hand them darts.
Fourteen is hardly a magic age; some cross the threshold into adulthood when they turn 18 and can vote, turn 21 and can drink legally, graduate from school, buy a first home, notice the first gray hairs or notice they’ve started falling out.
“Coming of Age in 21st-Century America,” a study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, describes seven stages in the transition to adulthood.
The report, based on the 2002 General Social Survey of 1,398 people, also determined when people generally expect young people to complete the transitions. Becoming self-supporting is the first step (20.9 years old), living independently of parents (21.1), having a full-time job (21.2), completing schooling (22.3), being able to financially support a family (24.5), getting married (25.7), and having a child (26.2).
But an Associated Press story following the survey reported that many 20 somethings did not feel these milestones were ones that marked them as adults.
Living at home longer than previous generations, living with partners longer before marriage and having careers before having children can all contribute to a trend of “delayed adulthood.”
Whatever the factors that are causing it, much of society seems to be embracing the notion. And a whole line of increasingly common sayings are indicating a ripple effect-“30 is the new 20” and “40 is the new 30,” and so on. Elaine Wethington, a sociologist in the department of human development at Cornell University, believes the sayings have a ring of truth.
Wethington says that parents may be contributing to this delay by holding on to their kids a little longer than previous generations did. They let them live at home after college. They bankroll them for years. They allow their children to remain kids when they’re capable of taking responsibility for themselves.
This phenomenon reminds me of a recurring conversation I had with my parents that went something like this.
My parents: “When are you going to grow up?”
Me: “When are you going to start treating me like a grown-up?”
This circular conversation captures some truth. When my parents, my boss, my husband, my child clearly expect me to behave like an adult, how can I deny that I am one?
And yet even after I began to work full time, earned money, was married, and became a parent, I discovered those experiences transformed me-and aged me-but didn’t land me in that elusive place I believed adulthood would take me, a peaceful, serene place where all the answers resided.
The reason I haven’t arrived, of course, is that no such place exists. Adulthood isn’t a place, a final destination we arrive at after years of growth, it’s a role we enter and exit. The door swings both ways, and each of us holds our own set of keys.
I’ll know I’m grown up when:
The man snoring on the couch is my husband, not my father
I say, “It’s funny until someone gets hurt.”
I file my taxes before April 15
My retirement account exceeds my student loan balance