Am I grown up yet?
This may seem like a funny question to ask. Surely, you must know if you’re grown up, right? Yet I find that’s often the very question that has my patients stumped and stressed out.
In the past, sociologists established pretty hard and fast rules about what makes someone an adult: finishing your education, getting married, having children among them. But do the same rules still apply as our timetables shift ever outward? Many of my young patients must believe they do or they wouldn’t be so worried about where they fall on the scales of adulthood.
It’s a tough road that our emerging adults face. While society has changed rapidly during the past few decades, our expectations have not changed as quickly. Many parents still worry when their children reach thirty and have no spouse or “grownup” job to show for it. Adult children feel the weight of their parents’ stress and wonder if they’ve somehow failed at being a grown up.
Though out-dated assumptions still inform these young adults, the world of possibilities is vastly different than it once was. Technology has created new career opportunities. Changing sexual mores have made alternative relationships more predominant. An ever-shrinking world has broadened their horizons.
Is it any wonder that they’d feel conflicted?
Should I play it safe and follow in my parents’ footsteps? Choose a secure job with benefits now and stick with it through retirement? Or should I experiment with different careers? Or strike out on my own as an entrepreneur?
Should I be on the lookout for a husband or wife? Am I ready to take the plunge? Or should I focus on figuring out who I am first?
Maybe it’s time we re-think what defines an adult. Marriage, parenting, career paths, these are the trappings of particular lifestyle choices, not necessarily eternal standards of adulthood.
Adults are people who accept responsibility for their decisions. They may not know where they’re going, but they’re capable of weighing many options. They may not own a home, but they feel at home in their own skin and in the world. They may turn to their mentors for guidance, but they make decisions independently.
Adulthood is not a static thing. It is a process. It is the lengthiest phase of our life, and it can be the most rewarding phase, in particular if we give young adults the opportunity to savor it, to experiment with it, and to learn from it.
If you are a young person struggling with the new decisions before you and unsure of how to proceed, consider seeking guidance and insight from a therapist. One hallmark of maturity is knowing when to ask for help. As a therapist and life coach, I am available to listen and to offer an objective perspective as well as much needed support. Let's talk one-on-one about how my coaching and therapy practice can serve you. I can be reached at my Uptown New Orleans office at 504-481-8997.
Dr. Eileen Wynne, PhD