Wednesday night in class, my professor asked us a question that I have been pondering since. The question was “When did you know you were an adult?” We were discussing societies that have rituals or rites of passage to indicate that one is an adult. The United States, in general, has no specific marker of adulthood, other than reaching the age of 18.
The majority of the class stated that becoming monetarily self sufficient was their leap into adulthood. This makes sense, as one important step to becoming an adult is separating from parents and establishing oneself as an independent individual. I recall feeling very grown-up the first time I had to pay all my own bills. The majority of these students are in their 20’s or early 30’s, so becoming financially responsible is likely one of the first adult behaviors they have assumed.
I wonder though, if when they get to my age, (48), their answer will be the same? In my early 20’s, I was married and had two young children, and certainly was acting as if I was an adult. I did things adults did, but was I really an adult? For me the answer is no.
In my 20’s, I had the luxury of calling my mom if finances got desperate and I needed help. As a stubborn person, I rarely asked, but I knew I could if I had to. My mom was supportive and I often called her for advice or for a different perspective on a concern. I might have technically been an adult, but I still had a safety net. I knew mom would save me if I was truly floundering.
My mom died two years ago, and this is when I knew I was an adult. In one week, I went from the baby of my family of origin, to the matriarch. I no longer had someone that was more adult than me to turn to for advice and help. I can honestly say this was a weird feeling and one that I was not fully prepared for. I recall even thinking I was too young to be dealing with all the things that are required when someone dies. Too young at 45? Really?
This is why it is so important for counselors to fully understand their clients’ perspectives. It is likely that many people would struggle to understand how I could still feel too young at 45 years old to deal with such adult stuff. Honestly, the time between my 20’s and now has flown by, so although I have more knowledge and life experience, I still feel and think like a young person frequently. This may not generalize to most people. I have known individuals that seemed old at 20 and those that seemed very young at 70. For me, this “young” perspective allows me to easily recall the issues and concerns of adolescence and young adulthood, but with the added benefit of life experiences. I am able to see how much things change with each passing decade. I am sure that I can come up with many instances throughout my life that have made me feel like an adult, but none more so than my mom’s death. I AM now the adult, even if I still don’t feel like one.
I would really like to be able to ask my classmates this question again in ten years, just to see if life experience has altered their answers. My guess is that for some, the answer will change. I believe this change in perspectives indicates growth, and I hope to never stop growing and reevaluating my experiences and the effects they have had on me.
When did you know you were an adult?