We are taught a myth as children about what it means to be an adult. When I was a kid, I was told being an adult was about “paying bills.” Or sometimes, I wasn’t given an answer at all, but rather a chuckle followed by, “you’ll know soon enough.” I was encouraged to just “be a kid.”
It’s funny when you think about it; when you are a kid, you look ahead to becoming this adult so you can make your own decisions about what to eat and when to sleep. You yearn for independence! Responsibility! But, when you become an adult it’s that very independence, attached to decisions supporting that independence, and that very responsibility about maintaining that independence, that stresses many of us out. Many adults I know don’t want to burden kids with the weight of adulthood. They want to let kids, be kids. They want them to enjoy their childhood.
As do I.
But what about preparing them for what’s to come?
Raising our kids in this bubble, devoid of independence and responsibility and further, what that looks like and feels like when you are actually completely on your own, I just don’t think is working. Because kids, they don’t get it on their own. They haven’t experienced bills and deadlines, securing food or shelter. Not to mention one of the biggest aspects of being an adult: engaging in and managing adult relationships. How do we prepare them to face the hardships of exploring this world on their own, while giving them space to enjoy being kids?
And as a parent now, I question that often. How do you deliver such adult information to a still evolving and developing brain? How do you not scare them into not wanting to become an adult?
While pondering answers to those questions, a deeper question has surfaced. What does it mean to be an adult?
I’m 28, so legally yes, I am an adult. I’m a divorced mother, a fact that for many points to “life experience” evidence supporting a claim to adult status. I have been paying my own bills since I was 17, and buying my own clothes since I was 14. I've been a working member of American society for over 15 years. But, I still struggle at defining what it means to be an adult. These external facts show a sense of independence, sure. A sense of responsibility. But what else does it mean to be an adult?
Let’s get back to this myth. Because although it isn't talked about much, I do think we are led to believe certain things about what being an adult is supposed to mean. It’s simple: by a certain time in life, you should find yourself in a place of relative stability and be able to sky rocket up, for the rest of your life, toward success and happiness! No holds barred. Or if you are held back, you bounce back with such speed and resilience that it doesn't phase your upward growth. And no one should know otherwise. I think we are encouraged to hide our struggles.
Because, struggling, doesn’t seem to be a part of the adult myth. At all.
I moved recently. Suddenly and without certainty that it was the best step forward. I was in a tough place and had to make a decision. So I jumped.
The transition has been hard. It’s tested me. In so many ways. For the last month, I’ve been looking for a job, my own place and a car. Three things in American society that many might say you should have as an adult.
I’ve faltered. I’ve stumbled. Insecurities surfaced about being an adult and having it all together. Fears about whether or not I was following my purpose. If I could see it anymore. If I knew it at all in the first place. I’ve questioned everything.
And in this questioning, I’ve realized something. That the questions aren’t coming from within me. They seem like they are. They feel like they are. But instead, I’m finding that they are coming from what I think society expects of me. As an adult.
So, here I am. Struggling. Learning. Growing. Questioning. And I’ve realized something. Something big. Something I’ve been trying to integrate into my understanding of myself, my understanding of society, since people started calling me an adult.
And it’s this: that struggling, that faltering needs to be a part of the adult reality. Because, we need to be shaken. So that we can resettle and build from a new perspective, from a new experience. That’s how you build strength. By testing your foundation and finding ways to grow.
And while we are shaking. While we are shifting, we need a society that looks upon that with compassion. That understands that. That see that as a part of healthy growth. Not just a few people. Not just your mom or your boyfriend. But our community. We need this not only because it sounds nice, but because it’s the best way to foster healthy personal growth.
And fostering healthy personal growth, fosters healthy communal growth.
Living in an American society, I’m not often encouraged to see beyond myself. But, the fact of the matter is that we need each other to live. We do. I don’t make my clothes. I don’t often kill my food. I don’t build the electronics I use. I didn't create the space that shelters me. Human society has developed over thousands of years because we need to grow together to survive.
And I think we need to better prepare our children to not only understand struggle, and challenge, and hardship, but to appreciate it. And to do that, we need our society, our communities, to better prepare for, understand and appreciate struggle, challenge and hardship.
Let’s change the narrative. Let’s tell our kids that being an adult is a process. And throughout it you will likely struggle. Maybe in finding work. Or finding a home. In maintaining meaningful relationships. Or finding love. And that being an adult is something you reevaluate over and over again as you grow.
Because growth is not linear. Growth, organic sustainable growth, is full of twists and turns and back steps and questioning. Let’s support that. All of it. So that we can all grow tall and strong. Together.
Let’s spread the narrative that struggle and challenge is not only healthy, but supported. Not stigmatized or something to be embarrassed by. But something to be appreciated. Valued.
Let’s appreciate our journeys. Pushing forward toward growth, however that looks, whatever that means: for each of us.