I was waiting for a medical procedure several years ago when things got quite delayed at the hospital where I had been admitted. There was some confusion as to who was taking charge in an effort to speed things up. My doctor smiled and joked, “I guess as soon as we find a grown-up we can get things rolling.”
When a seasoned politician south of the border dropped hints at a possible presidential run one analyst, commenting on the number of less experienced candidates remarked, “Maybe now we’ll have a grown-up in the race.”
Becoming a grown-up is part of the maturing process we are all expected to go through. As we emerge through childhood and adolescence it is hoped we can embrace new opportunities and greater responsibilities as we transition into the role of being an adult. But when do we become adults…and how? Are there things we need to do that usher us into adulthood?
On one hand we are seeing a pushback against some of the benchmarks we associate with being an adult--independence, financial responsibility, marriage and even taking care of basic needs like cooking or laundry. On the other is the confusion questioning why there seems to be such a breakdown in a willingness to become self-sufficient.
It’s why we have seen this rise in Adulting Classes in places across Canada and the United States. Campuses, libraries, churches and recreation centres offer curriculum to teach skills deemed necessary for someone entering adulthood. They are designed to support those who are lacking basic life skills such as cooking, budgeting or time management. An Adulting School in Maine teaches students how to sew on a button, understand modern art, talk to people, and even how to tell someone you love them. Another set of classes focuses on nutritional plans, bike safety and gift giving. The vast catalogue of books on the subject published in the last few years indicate quite a market for those wanting to acquire knowledge on how to become an adult.
The transitions between adult milestones are moving much more slowly than in the past. Canadian census numbers suggest 34.7% of people aged 20-34 are living with at least one parent. In the United States more millennials live with parents than with roommates or a spouse. Young people interviewed said they either weren’t ready to move out or simply didn’t want to. It would appear to be a world in which the only thing young people outgrow are their shoes.
If it is taking longer for young people to achieve adulthood does that mean it is tougher growing up today than in the past, or have we collectively dropped the ball in setting expectations or even passing along basic skills? It isn’t just that they haven’t learned to unload a dryer or unclog a drain. There’s something more going on here. If those in this prolonged adolescence aren’t ready, or interested, in becoming adults, we should be asking what is causing the reluctance? Maybe the focus, just for a moment, should shift back to us. How are we making adulthood look?
We can’t expect a younger generation to embrace marriage if we don’t show them we cherish ours, and we shouldn’t wonder why they can’t handle money when we haven’t demonstrated how to live within our means. And if we have been too preoccupied, or kept them too busy with their activities to have time together in the kitchen, or garage or even the laundry room--that is on us, not them.
But even beyond that is the examples we are setting in our interactions with others. Are there grown-ups in the stands and bleachers at sporting events? Are there grown-ups behind the wheel when traffic gets bad or a smartphone beeps? Are there grown-ups in leadership?
Of course there are, but far too often they get drowned-out and eclipsed by behaviour that is decidedly less than mature and far from grown-up. If we want to create grown-ups we need to be the grown-ups . That’s my outlook.