Apparently I am not yet an adult. This morning found me thinking a very 12-year-oldish1 “adults are so incompetent.”  I immediately realized that I should not think of “adults” as some group distinct from my own identity. But apparently in my mind adults are parents. And I am not a parent.

I have a vague memory of some sort of sociological diagram of the transition to adulthood and what makes one an adult in the American experience. It was something like:

  1. Finish school (college)
  2. Support oneself financially
  3. Get married
  4. Buy a house
  5. Have children

People can obviously change the order of these, and journalists like to write human interest stories about how graduating from college does not make one an adult or how single women are now buying houses long before getting married or having children.

For me it has gone something like:

  1. Support myself financially
  2. Finish college (but not my education?) & get married at about the same time
  3. Stop #1
  4. Try with no success to work toward everything (other than getting married) at once with limited success

I was raised to think that as a woman all I needed to do was to get married, perhaps build a house with my husband, and have children. But I knew many women who had followed this path and were so very far from being content adults at 40, so there was never a question in my mind that I wanted to be an adult in every way not just the minimum required for women.

I still feel this way, but it does not trouble me that I have yet to accomplish all of my goals. I have time, and I would much rather live well and live fully than to try to quickly settle everything.

I do wonder though, why is it that not having made every transition/mile marker makes me think of myself as not an adult? Would I think of myself as an adult if I had a house full of children, or is this simply something that will come for me in time?

What do you see as the important transitions to adulthood? Is there anything that you still want to accomplish before you would see yourself as entirely an adult?

1. I was probably more competent at a 12-year-old than I am now. I certainly do a lot less work these days!

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14 thoughts on “Adulthood

  1. Trena

    I bought my house when I was 23 and would have said, that made me an adult. Even though buying a house was a big step, I still relied on my dad so much.

    But then I met and fell in love with Frank and we got married when I was 27. The day after our wedding when he moved in my house, our house, I really felt like an adult. Sure I still need my dad from time to time but now I am making decisions with my spouse, grown up decisions that make me feel more like an adult then I did when I bought my house.

    Having kids? Makes me feel less like an adult because I can kick back and act silly during the day like I’m a kid again!

  2. Christine

    I’ve always thought that being an adult has to do with ones emotional maturity. I think that the five things you listed generally are stepping stones to increased maturity, but doing just those doesn’t mean that you’re an adult.

    So I guess this all leads to the question: what is emotional maturity? I personally see a mature person as someone who is can look beyond themselves, is willing to take responsibility for their actions and is willing to learn from their mistakes and who realize and accept their limitations as a human being. (There are more, but to me these are the first things that come to mind.)

    I do not see myself as an adult despite having completed 3.5/5 on your list (the 1/2 is supporting myself financially as I am still looking for a job but when I was working I was able to save money/not go into debt/etc. Don’t worry, I’m not pregnant ;) .) I know that I will consider myself to be more of adult once I have dealt with some of my issues but in all honesty I don’t know if I will fully consider myself to be an adult as there is always room for improvement. :)

  3. practicinghuman

    As someone who will likely never marry, I’m having to carve my own path about what it means to be an adult. Generally my markers have been sustained financial independence, consistently living responsibly within the consequences of my choices, maintaining independent living arrangements suitable for an array of adult persons (like having my own apartment rather than living in the dorms), and incorporating an array of counselors outside of my own parents. Having a paid job that covers the essentials: housing, food, transportation loans and leisure as also been an important milestone.

  4. Genavee

    For me adulthood is all about functioning independence. Meaning, you have a job, you pay for what you do and are responsible for your decisions. House, kids, etc all feel adulty to me, but all in all being adult is about not being a child, a dependent.

  5. Princess Chirsty

    Now that i’ve bought a house, have a full time job, and support myself financially, I would like to believe I’m an adult. It seems that many others in my life won’t see me as an adult until I get married and have children, even though I’m now 26 years old.

  6. Kacie

    According to my father, you never feel like an adult. My mom disagrees. She thinks my dad is afraid of getting old. :) I’m with you… I don’t feel like an adult. I think in my mind I will always be 18. That’s the age I am in my head.

  7. Rebecca

    The first time I felt like an adult was, sadly, the day I had to take our cat to have her put to sleep because of cancer. There was no one to do it for me, and no one there with me (my husband had moved already).

    And I feel like I can so relate to your #4 – it’s like there’s so much to work towards, you can’t make any progress on any one thing.

  8. Claire

    I don’t feel like an adult. I keep looking around thinking, “who exactly thinks I am competent to raise these kids? what am I DOING, I’m just a kid!”


  9. Young Mom

    I was always told that to be a grown up you had to get married and have kids, which I totally don’t agree with now.
    I think that you are an adult when you make your OWN descisions, and your own money. It’s more complicated then it sounds, we’ve been married for almost 5 years and just in the last 18 months are we truly free from our parents control. So I guess I only really agree with one of your points (supporting yourself financially) because we already had 7 years of college education, bought a house, and had 2 kids before we became adults.

  10. alisone

    adulthood is a farce!
    that’s my new mantra lately. think something exists, nope, its a farce! all these constructs, are just farces! haha.
    i think i need a new mantra. a more positive one.
    but in all seriousness, “adulthood” seems so relative. just like when i thought 23 was officially old. and then 23 came and went.
    i guess i do feel like an adult now. but then again i do meet like 4 of the 5 listed, and not because i’m not trying for the 5th. so, maybe there is something to that list? i think financial dependence is a big thing, but at the same time i know its common practice in my family for the grandparents to help out financially with the little ones even up until college, so, again. its a farce!

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