Monday, March 7, 2011

when does someone become a "grown up"?

My lab mates and I had an interesting talk at lunch today. One asked another, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" The reply was "When I grow up? I thought I was already grown up."

And there starting the wondering aloud and musing and trying to define what a "grown up" really is. Despite being in their twenties and living on their own, most of the people around me didn't really consider themselves to be grown up. Maybe because we're all still technically "students"? Does that automatically mean we aren't adults?

It was a strange discussion. I was mainly quiet. I had my own points of view, but it was hard to talk about them with people who didn't know much about my past.

Someone offered, "You're a grown up when you willingly and seriously take on responsibility for another person. Like having children, and taking care of them properly."

Which made me wonder - what about taking care of parents? It wasn't something I "willingly" took on, exactly. I do, willingly, look after them. Especially Mom. But it's not something that was ever really a choice for me.People choose to have children (well, usually). I didn't choose for my parents to be disabled.

But maybe mine's a bit of an unusual situation.

Another said, "You're a grown up when you have a responsibility to the world. When you do something important, when you contribute."

I did reply to that one. I pointed out there are lots of people who fancy themselves adults, and who don't contribute anything responsibly to the world. And there are lots of people who do contribute to the world, and who aren't of legal age yet.

Another: "I don't really consider myself an adult. I still feel like I can pretty well do whatever I want."

To me, doing what you want is part of being grown up. No one viewed as a child, or teenager even, gets to do whatever they want.

It's past lunch now, and I'm still thinking about it. I do consider myself an adult now. Usually. I'm not sure when the transition point came.

Maybe when I moved out of my parents' house? Not just because it would mean I would be responsible for my own rent, car insurance, bills, groceries, etc. But because it was a decision I made responsibly, knowing that it was what I needed to do.

But then, I've made other decisions like that. Responsible, well-thought out decisions. Like breaking up with someone I loved, because he was toxic and unwilling to do anything to improve the situation.

Even though I usually consider myself an adult, there are times when I'm so frightened and panicked, I feel like a child again. And then it's even more important to remind myself that I'm an adult. Because an adult has more resources than a child. An adult has had time to grow, to become more capable, to be able to take care of herself. An adult feels safer in the world than a child does.

I've been told I grew up too quickly.

Mainly, I've been told that by people who also say I'm mature or responsible or whatever for my age. But saying I grew up too quickly seems at odds with the way I've felt for most of my life. If an adult has more resources, feels more in control, feels safer, then I was late to feel like an adult.

Maybe I was in some sort of age limbo. I had a short childhood; I didn't have a lot of times when I felt carefree and innocent. But I haven't felt in control or competent most of my life either.

I think the important thing, is that I feel like an adult (more often than not), now. It doesn't matter when or how I got here.

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