Adult­hood is not a bad thing; it’s a good thing

We are send­ing kids the wrong mes­sage about grow­ing up

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - JUDY MOLLEN WAL­TERS

My 22-year-old daugh­ter had an adult mo­ment re­cently.

A grad­u­ate stu­dent with an in­tern­ship, she re­cently was see­ing a client who, at the end of their meet­ing, called her Ms. Wal­ters and asked for her busi­ness card.

“I think I’m an adult,” she texted me.

There are so many ways — lit­tle and big — that we mark our kids’ pas­sage to adult­hood. When I was in the process of be­com­ing an adult, it seemed like get­ting mar­ried was one marker, though at the time I wasn’t think­ing, “Now I’m an adult.” I was think­ing that I was so happy to be mar­ried to my hus­band.

Then I had my first baby — the now 22-year-old — and I was re­ally an adult. Within just a few years I had a mort­gage and two ba­bies.

It’s what peo­ple did. I never thought about it much, at least not con­sciously. I was just liv­ing my life. Be­com­ing an adult — didn’t that just ... hap­pen? Or was it more com­pli­cated than that?

These days it feels like we shift our young peo­ple ever so grad­u­ally and ten­derly to­ward adult­hood that they can barely feel them­selves do­ing it. There are books ev­ery­where teach­ing chil­dren how to be­come adults, or telling us to teach them how to do it.

It never dawned on me that I would need to learn to teach my child to be­come an adult. Doesn’t it just hap­pen nat­u­rally at some point? Didn’t we cel­e­brate our child’s ev­ery birth­day not only with cake and can­dles, but also with the idea that be­com­ing a year older was some­thing to mark?

These days, I feel like not so much. Many of us send our chil­dren the mes­sage that be­ing an adult is bad. That be­ing an adult is too hard. That you’re bet­ter off not be­ing an adult. And what we get in re­turn is a lot of kids who, well, don’t turn into adults.

We all know them — the kids who don’t make plans out of high school and then don’t fol­low any par­tic­u­lar path. They take a col­lege course and drop out. They don’t work. They sit around the house a lot. Maybe they go to col­lege, but they don’t get a job af­ter col­lege; per­haps they avoid look­ing for a job al­to­gether. Maybe their four-year de­gree is stretch­ing into six or seven years.

They’re in their 20s, clos­ing in on 30, and still liv­ing at home, un­deror un­em­ployed, not in school, with no di­rec­tion. Their par­ents cook their meals, do their laun­dry and help them func­tion in their daily lives.

What have we taught them? Have we given them the im­pres­sion that adult­hood is not worth look­ing for­ward to?

I see it all the time on Face­book. There are memes from well-mean­ing friends about want­ing to be chil­dren again them­selves (they seem to for­get that when you’re a kid, you don’t get the adult brain to deal with sim­ple kid stuff ). Friends lament that their teens don’t know how easy they have it (that one is re­ally off — a teenager is per­haps the hard­est thing one could ever be).

When I see these memes and lamen­ta­tions, I want to say — and some­times do — that con­trary to what my friends are say­ing, adult­hood is great. It is liberating. You can de­cide what you want to do and how and when you want to do it. You don’t even need to know why you want to do some­thing be­fore you ac­tu­ally do it.

My hus­band and I don’t have all the answers, and I am quick to say we got very lucky with our kids. But we did try to im­press upon them when they were grow­ing up that be­ing an adult is some­thing worth striv­ing for. We taught them that it’s fun to make de­ci­sions and that be­ing in con­trol of your life is a source of pride and ex­cite­ment.

My older daugh­ter spent all of her se­nior year of col­lege ap­ply­ing to grad­u­ate schools. It was hard. She had in­ter­views and es­says and dead­lines on top of her course­work and her job. But she landed free grad­u­ate school and a paid in­tern­ship and is work­ing and study­ing up­ward of 50 or 60 hours a week. That’s adult­hood. That’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. Our younger daugh­ter spent all of last year ap­ply­ing to col­leges. She had three ad­vanced place­ment classes and a job. It was hard. But she got ac­cepted at eight schools, picked one and she’s there now learn­ing more about be­ing an adult. She’s hav­ing a great time but work­ing re­ally hard in her classes while she ne­go­ti­ates daily life. Those are not bad things. Those are good things. It’s not bad to be fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent. It’s not bad to live in a tiny apart­ment and eat spaghetti most nights while watch­ing TV be­cause you don’t have any money to go out.

It’s not bad to drive a 10-year-old car and hope that it lasts an­other few months.

It’s not bad to have to get up with an alarm, or study for a test in a sub­ject you don’t know much about, or learn to live with peo­ple you might never nor­mally have a rea­son to be around, or share a bath­room with 10 other peo­ple at the end of the hall­way.

It’s not bad to set goals and then go af­ter them, no mat­ter how hard it may seem to reach them. These are good things.

Be­ing an adult is good. Let’s not only keep teach­ing our kids that. Let’s be­lieve it our­selves.

It’s not bad to set goals and then go af­ter them, no mat­ter how hard it may seem to reach them. These are good things. JUDY MOLLEN WAL­TERS

RYAN MCVAY, GETTY IM­AGES

Many of us send our chil­dren the mes­sage that be­ing an adult is bad. And what we get in re­turn is a lot of kids who, well, don’t turn into adults.

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