What does it mean to be an adult?
As a kid, I used to think being an adult happened once you turned the age of majority, which in my case, was 19. Or when I reached my final height and stopped growing 😉
Now, I’m thinking becoming an adult in a social context is much more complex than that, mostly because we have different rites of passage for adults these days than we did before.
All this talk about young people (my generation) and this new cultural, Western phenomenon of ‘arrested development’ where no one wants to grow up and become an adult has made me wonder WTF happened.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PAST?
Two generations ago, my grandparents became adults the day they got married, moved out of their parents’ homes, got jobs and worked to pay for their bills while raising a family. No college degrees.
One generation ago, my parents followed the same path, although before they moved out of their parents’ homes after they got married, my mother got a college degree (but my father went straight into the workforce with just a high school education).
Photograph I took while walking along New York City’s High Line Railroad Park
We Millennials don’t even get married until we’re in our late 20s, even mid-30s.. or perhaps, not at all, so being an adult doesn’t come after being married any more.
Plus, we are being herded and nagged to go to college, even if we don’t have a clue about what we want to do with that degree (if it’s worth anything..).
We each follow different paths to become adults (before or after college), but the most striking commonality among those whom I consider to be adults, are that they are all financially independent, even having lost their jobs.
I know at least 5 people who don’t have jobs right now, but they’re still living on their own with drastically slashed budgets, living off their emergency funds, searching hard for a new job, and NOT moving back in with Mommy and Daddy.
One girl even took on waitressing and catering jobs in the meantime (with an MBA!) because she had to make ends meet while job hunting.
They are all determined to find a new career and/or job, go back to school and do something else.
Sometimes you have a boomerang adult-child who ends up coming back to the nest right after being unemployed to mooch, but I only know of one person like that.
So when I come across newly minted college grads such as this one, who say things like:
“..it’s time for me to become an adult and start paying my bills“
…yet she has never moved out on her own, and her parents are letting her live rent-free, grocery-free, with goodness knows what else, you wonder if they even know what being a real adult, let alone being financially independent means.
(Curtsey to Money after Graduation for the link)
Being an adult to me, means being able to support yourself without help of others like your parents or siblings.
Then what you choose to do, is your own business.
Look, you can be an adult and still live with your parents or grandparents — here’s one case in point:
I have a friend who told us after college he would move in with his grandmother to live with her, mostly to take care of her but also to pay ‘rent’ to her which would cover the rest of her mortgage and household bills which would secure her needs.
When his grandmother passed away, he sold the house, split the amounts with his siblings, and bought his own condo.
THAT, is an adult, my friends.
Photograph I took of artwork in an NYC subway
SO YOU CAN’T FIND A JOB, HUH?
There seems to be a (sad) trend happening where no one wants to really take the leap into true adulthood — this is being mirrored on TV such as in HBO’s “Girls” where a heroine who has been supported by her parents for years after college is cut off by her parents because they were sick of her not fully becoming independent any time soon.
While I absolutely understand not being able to find a job you love especially in today’s economy, here are some ground rules to true adulthood if you have no choice but to be at home with your parents:
- get a full-time job, ANY job that you work at, for 40 hours a week
- cover your own personal bills (cellphone, gas, car, car insurance) without whining
- pay some form of rent to cover your shelter and household bills there
- help out around the house without grumbling
- continue to look for a job
And you know what? That’s exactly what I do with my parents.
I don’t see the point in signing a lease for a year when I may only be in their city for a few months (or traveling a lot), so when I am with my parents, I:
- pay rent and my share of the household bills
- pay my own bills (cellphone, gas, .. everything)
- buy my own groceries and theirs, and cook for them
- buy them things I think they need around the house
- …even pay for necessary repairs sometimes
- help out around the house — I set a weekly schedule to clean each part of the house
I do it because I should, especially since they’re letting me stay there and invade their lives from time to time.
I know my parents not-so-secretly love having me there (they get lonely), but that doesn’t mean I should take advantage of them, especially if I want to call myself an adult.