How Do You Become an Adult? And When?

I fol­lowed the link from dslar­too’s inter­est­ing post today to Are We Grown Up Yet? Study Says Not ‘Till 26.

I’m not real­ly sur­prised by the sur­vey results. I knew that my views on adulthood—both who qual­i­fies, and when peo­ple *should* be adults—do not agree with those of many peo­ple in the US today. I had­n’t seen that spelled out quite so clear­ly before, though.

At 18 I was mar­ried and sup­port­ing my hus­band as he con­tin­ued his edu­ca­tion. I was an adult. We did­n’t get any mon­ey from our par­ents, and hon­est­ly, the thought of ask­ing for it would not have ever crossed my mind. We cer­tain­ly weren’t on any kind of pub­lic assistance.

I had absolute­ly no trou­ble get­ting a job, find­ing and fur­nish­ing an apart­ment, set­ting up the util­i­ties, keep­ing us fed and the place clean, keep­ing the check­book bal­anced, etc. There were no par­ents involved in any of those tasks. I lived in the apart­ment alone for a month or so before we got mar­ried. I had already been work­ing (beyond babysit­ting) for sev­en years. Mov­ing out was just anoth­er step in a log­i­cal progression.

My par­ents raised me and my sib­lings to be respon­si­ble peo­ple. The thought of some­one being a child at 26 is obscene to me. In fact, the thought of an 18-year-old being a child is dis­gust­ing. The thought of a 16-year-old being unable to take care of both him­self and (at least for short peri­ods, say a week­end or so) take care of younger chil­dren is sim­ply ridiculous.

For years, peo­ple thought I was much old­er than my actu­al age. I thought I must look real­ly old. Now I real­ize that it was just the matu­ri­ty fac­tor. Appar­ent­ly, I don’t look old­er than I am now and have been told that I look younger (not that I real­ly wor­ry much about it). Maybe my age­mates are just catch­ing up to me?

There is noth­ing mag­i­cal about the age of major­i­ty that means “okay, you’re an adult now!” in any­thing but legal terms. You def­i­nite­ly can­not flip a switch and cause some­one who has been treat­ed as and held to the expec­ta­tions of a child until his 18th birth­day to sud­den­ly, mys­te­ri­ous­ly, be an adult.

The process of rais­ing a respon­si­ble adult human being starts in ear­ly child­hood. You can do some “reme­di­al par­ent­ing” lat­er on if you real­ize that things are off-kil­ter, but it isn’t as good as con­sis­tent train­ing and mod­el­ing from birth.

No, I’m not say­ing that chil­dren should be giv­en adult respon­si­bil­i­ties and be labor­ers all their lives. I am say­ing that giv­ing them the chance to devel­op real skills and prove their com­pe­tence to them­selves and their friends and fam­i­lies is vital. True self-esteem is based on com­pe­tence. With­out skills, there is no pos­si­bil­i­ty of true self-confidence.

Cyn is Katie's mom, Esther's Mémé, and a Support Engineer. She lives in the Atlanta area with her life partner, Rick, and their critters. She knits, does counted-thread needlework, reads, makes music, plays TTRPGs, and spends too much time online.
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