I’m grown up.

This question has come up in several of my conversations over the past several weeks, so I’m putting it here to get your thoughts.

When can we stop calling ourselves “young” adults and simply be adults?

Is the transition to “actual” adulthood marked only by marriage and having babies, or can we acknowledge some other markers of adulthood in a society increasingly marrying later? Do I have to live my life on pause because I haven’t yet met someone I’d like to spend the rest of it with? I’m willing to assume marrying and having children aren’t the only markers of adulthood, as I know plenty of very grown-up people who are neither married nor parents.

So I can only suppose that being a full-fledged adult — as opposed to a young adult or, if you prefer the politically correct and currently acceptable terminology, an “emerging adult” — boils down to deciding it’s time to take the proverbial bull by the horns and BE one already.

I moved away from home almost 10 years ago. I graduated from college and entered the American workforce. I passed all the age milestones — 18, 21, and 25 (the last milestone being the ability to rent a car at standard prices. Oh, the things we wait for…).

I am an adult.

I have a full-time job.
I pay monthly rent and have my name on a lease.
I pay taxes. Lots and lots of taxes.
I also pay into Social Security. You’re welcome.
I own a car, which I have to take in for regular oil changes and inspections and tire rotations and fluid replacements.
I am fully responsible for buying my own dish soap, shampoo, bedding, clothing, furniture, kitchen utensils, groceries, and anything and everything else that people who are grown up have to provide for themselves.
I have insurance.
I pay for my own phone plan.
I save for retirement.
I worry about the future.
I’m responsible for making and keeping my own dental, vision, and doctor appointments.
I cook for myself and mow my own lawn.
I set up appointments as needed with the plumber, carpenter, locksmith, exterminator, and any other speciality worker who comes in to fix things around the house that get broken.
I volunteer my time at church and in the local community and make it a point to be there for family and friends.

Do any of these responsibilities add up to the responsibility of being a parent? Admittedly, no. Does that make them somehow not “real” responsibilities? Well, how about I just pretend they’re not real for a few weeks, and I’ll let you know how that goes…from my parents’ house or my grandmother’s basement, where I’ll be living after I lose my job and can’t pay my own bills anymore.

Being an adult is not a matter of all the right external circumstances magically falling into place around you. (I may never get married. Does that mean I’ll never grow up?) Nor is it simply living by a list of responsibilities, be they raising children or just dragging yourself to and from work every day. I’ve known plenty of parents who needed to grow up. I also encounter plenty of people my age who never got around to taking full responsibility for the fact of their adulthood. At the end of the day, being an adult boils down to deciding to be one, and then acting like it.

I am not old or wise, and I admit that. I got nothin’ on my friends who are married and raising children. But I’m calling it, people. I’m an adult.

From now on I’m dropping the extra label and just telling it like it is.

–Mabel

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11 thoughts on “I’m grown up.

  1. I totally agree. For what it’s worth, I think people are grown up when they start taking care of other people instead of themselves, whether that be husbands and babies, or parents, siblings, friends, coworkers and whoever God brings into your life.

  2. I’d say one’s an adult when they have their own place, owned or leased, and no roommates. Having one’s own domain is a mark of adulthood.

    • I disagree. That once again relegates adulthood to a set of outside factors — i.e., income that allows for owning or renting a place alone…and the simple fact of living alone. I’ve known plenty of people who own homes who haven’t fully embraced adulthood in the sense I’m describing. I’d even argue that being a full-fledged adult requires the ability to live in community. Just having the money to throw at a house so you don’t have to deal with roommates anymore is not sufficient qualification for being an adult.

      • I was half joking really, but the question I have is, where do you run into this distinction of young adult vs. adult? I know the diocese has it’s YAM (and there’s the question of who fits into that?) and so do various parishes here and there. But I generally avoid these, and outside that, I have no context for the term young adult. I work for a small secular company and with the military, and just about town where I shop and dine and read and walk etc etc, never do I come to find myself being addressed as a young adult, or wondering about this.

        Maybe I’m old. I just turned 30. But even so I have not been classified by anyone as a young adult since like, college maybe. If then even.

        Is this common parlance somewhere I’m unaware of? I was surprised to see an article on this topic. I didn’t know it was a question to be asked.

        Or is that your point entirely? That it is a nonsense term?

        On a side note when it comes to roommates vs. having one’s own domain, it’s really more of an urban vs. country, self-sufficient vs. poor situation, generally speaking (in the U.S.). While it may not be a distinction for adulthood, it is a significant responsibility difference to be completely out on one’s own like a raft adrift rather than with the comfort and security of roommates.

        And if you combine that with moving to an area unfamiliar with no friends, it’ll put hair on your chest.

        Then if you do that in a foreign country, you age a year.

        And if you’re the first colonist on the moon, you age 10 years.

        And so on. It’s gradated.

        The Jamestown Settlers. Now they were adults. Including the kids.

        Maybe that’s the thing though, adulthood is subjective, and relative.

  3. Nice article! 🙂

    I also do not think that having your own place is a mark of adulthood. That is a very recent idea. For thousands of years people have been able to live a mature adults with their families. People who lived at home contributed to the home – they didn’t just mooch off their parents. And now-a-days, roommates are as much as a comfort as they are a necessity. I couldn’t pay for place on my own, and I would be so lonely without my roomies!

    • It may not be the sole defining mark for single secular folk, (although odd that those who have not had that experience are the ones rejecting it here–yet are the ones asking themselves the question) but there is certainly a maturing that happens when one is on their own utterly and completely, dealing with the entire weight of responsibility alone (or as one–with a spouse). But one could have already been an adult perhaps, since maturing experiences will probably occur til the day we die.

      However, I definitely can’t see accuracy in stating that it was normative for unrelated adults to live together single for thousands of years. It is perhaps more of a cultural experience than anything, and since it seems to me only the American experience is relevant here, I would note the notion of private property and autonomy is as old as the U.S. itself, plus some.

      Only children lived at home with parents until they were autonomous, with the exception of the poor and the sick or others in a situation where they needed the care of others (the elderly or mentally ill, for instance).

      The Great Depression threw many people into poverty, so it was often our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ experiences that adults shared homes. Again, this was a restriction and exception imposed by poverty–poverty simply became more common than before. And this was still often relegated to family.

      The Post Civil-War years felt similar effects strictly in the South, which was thrown from prosperity into poverty for one hundred years. Again, due to poverty. Again, mostly relegated to families.

      The idea of single unrelated “adults” living together being normative is extremely recent in the U.S. Though far less common in rural areas, it is a common phenomenon in urban areas that again, stems from relative “poverty”– in the sense of not being able to afford one’s own place, though technically speaking, many of the younger generation who do so are not below the poverty line–I think. Maybe when you factor in average debt, many are, idk.

      In the end, I think it is undeniable that being completely on one’s own and with one’s own place is a mark of an adult. Even if it is possible for one who has never known this to be an adult as a single person, this doesn’t preclude it from being *a* mark of adulthood.

      Perhaps one has reached adulthood when they stop asking themselves if they are an adult.

      Or as one of my married friends with two kids wryly answered when I shared this discussion with them put it: You are an adult when you stop blogging.

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