Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A few thoughts on being an adult

I was reading another blog, and I tried to leave a comment, cause I disagreed with the author. Most of the other thought out comments also disagreed with the author, but I didn't think that they went far enough, so I proceeded to write this really long comment.

And then there were technical difficulties, and my comment was eaten.

So rather than have that happen again, I will write some things here, and then maybe later I will go back to copy some of it there.

The author of the blog sometimes gets letters from other readers, asking for advice. This week's letter was from a girl who was twenty-two years old, still living with her parents, and in her last year of college. She complained that her mother treats her like a child and wants to know where she is and what she is doing at all times.

There was no mention of the college student paying rent, just that she still lived with her parents and didn't like that they weren't treating her like an adult.

I don't think the college student is an adult. She has lived a certain number of years, and the law says that she's old enough to know better and follow the rules and such, and that she is old enough to vote and old enough to drink if she chooses. But that is about it. If she has in anyway earned adulthood, it wasn't mentioned.

Our civilization doesn't require an adulthood test, just that we reach a certain age, and if we reach that certain age, that probably isn't something we can take much credit for either. If we didn't die when we were younger, it was probably due to our parents, or some other family member, or maybe a teacher, or maybe a doctor or a cop or someone else in emergency services. But you probably didn't get to the magic age of eighteen or twenty-one because of anything brilliant you did. If left to your own devices, you would have done something really stupid before then, you would be a face on a milk carton, you would have died in a car wreck, you would have drank yourself to death or overdosed on some other drug, ended up in jail with some of your buddies, etc....

In other cultures, it is different. You don't just magically become an adult just because you have lived long enough. You have to do something to earn it. You have to get married or become a good parent. You might be expected to safely bungee jump or dive off of a cliff. You might have to prove that you can hunt for food or kill a dangerous predator. You might have to join the military. You might have to mutilate your body without anesthesia.

But we don't do any of that. We don't even have a test. You don't even have to graduate from high school. You don't even have to prove you can balance a checkbook.

So eighteen year olds and people in college complain when some of us don't treat them like adults, but what have they done to be an adult?

Are they married? Are they good parents? Do they take care of children or elderly people? Do they have jobs and pay their own bills? Or do they spend all their money on going out and having a good time? Did they pay for college or earn a scholarship, or did mommy and daddy pay for that?

The complaining college student probably isn't a bad person, or even a lazy person. She at least is going to college, which is what we want most people her age to do. Other people who think that they are adults didn't even graduate from high school. But she probably is not an adult yet. Probably if she were really even that close to being an adult, she would not be whining about all this stuff, most of which was probably done for her own safety.

At the other end of the spectrum, those of us who have actually been adults for a long time and have done something to be called an adult other than just living to be a certain age might have some life changing thing happen that takes away whatever it was that made us feel like adults. People who had bill paying jobs have lost them. People who were buying cars and houses have lost them. People who choose to cook and clean and otherwise take care of a spouse instead of pursuing a career might not have their spouses anymore. Stay at home parents might not have the child at home anymore or might have to go out and get a job. People who take care of elderly people or invalids eventually have to deal with the death of the person they cared for, and after that they aren't quite sure what to do with their time.

I don't guess that you stop being an adult after something like that happens, but losing that thing that was a major part of your life is hard, and sometimes you don't feel like an adult afterward. Even when it is something normal, like when you get old enough to retire or when your youngest child grows up and goes to college or moves away, it is still sometimes a difficult adjustment.

Adults have real problems to deal with. If you were really an adult, complaints about your mother wanting to know where you're going wouldn't even make the list.


dmarks said...

A few in our society (observant Jews) have the whole Bar Mitzbah and Bat Mitzvah tradition as passage into adulthood, but the usual age for that (12 or 13) seems young to me.

And I'm not sure what it counts for, but at least they mark it in a significant fashion.

Ananda girl said...

I think there was a time when graduation was a rite of passage. But back then, most people went on to find jobs or to enter college, where another graduation fit the bill. But we have lost that on the way. At some point, college became a party place for many.

The same goes for marriage. It used to be you got married with the intention of staying that way for life. Divorce was rare. Then boom... people began to live together without serious commitment. Working out relationship issues became less vital. Divorce is not the same taboo that it used to be.

I'm not sure that many adults feel that they have to be adult anymore.

But I do get what you are saying. When something happens that makes you feel less responsible as an adult, it is very difficult to find your balance.

dmarks said...

Another common rite of passage is going to a bar to get drunk on your 21st birthday. At least it seems common enough. Managed to avoid that one.