February 16, 2005

Parenting as adulthood

(I was actually planning to post this in my blog, but seeing as Chris has his open for everyone, I'll share it with you all.)

I was reading a report a while back about what "young adults" (people in their mid 20's-30's) considered made them into "real adults". For me it was a fascinating read, and I wish I had the link to share with all of you.

If I remember correctly, a few people believed graduating high school an adult - something I think most people would willingly argue. I know few 18 year olds who I would consider "adult". A slightly larger group felt that graduating college was the path to adulthood - that walk across your bachelorettes stage somehow transformed you from college kid to full blown adult.

A pretty hefty number of people felt moving out on your own, and/or getting married made you an adult. Paying your own bills, feeding your own body, and getting up on your own to go to work made you responsible. Adult responsibility creates an adult. Managing a household, and a budget, and not to go broke - are these the things that make you an adult? Making a commitment to another human being, living day in and day out with your spouse - does that make you an adult?

But surprisingly, to me anyhow, the largest group in the survey felt that having children is what really made you an adult. Being responsible for creating, supporting and cherishing another life is what induced adulthood to truely blossom.

Is this because people suddenly have someone besides themselves to worry over, or because they feel an obligation to do at least as good as their parents did if not better? Does the smell of baby hair and skin manage to transform a slacker into a responsible parent and adult?

I can't tell you from first hand experience.

I'm only about to be 24. I'll be married this fall, and my fiance' and I are not planning to have children of our own. We may adopt one fine day, but for now we make childfree plans. I've been on my own for what will be six years this June. Do I think I'm an adult? Having never managed to finish college, not yet married, and no children on the way or in the picture?

Some days I see it. When I look in the mirror, or hear myself talk, I notice I've taken on adult ways. When all the bills for the month are paid and I still have $5 in our checking account I feel accomplished. Some days I watch myself and think Wow, when did I grow up? I figure this is a normal response for most 20-somethings. Ask me again next year when I turn 25.

But I'll tell you a little secret, one I've not even told my fiance', if you promise to keep it:

When I see a parent about my age with children, that's when I realize the most how much we, as a generation have grown. I find my self thinking When did this happen?!? in a kind of shock that we who were only a few years ago high school and college kids, are suddenly filling the ranks with parents.

It can be a surprise to see a girl, excuse me, a woman, in clothes from the Gap with a VonDutch hat on, holding her childs hand as they walk into the drugstore. Or seeing two peirced and tattoed punks of my generation pushing a toddler in a stoller at the mall. In a way it's a wake up call to all of us that we're all *supposed* to be adults now.

My uncle and aunt, in their early thirties, suddenly seem more grown up since they chose to have Jeff a couple years ago. Friends of ours who married in thier early twenties have a child or two, and as a group we often find their adulthood-ishness intimidating, I think. We know they have responsibilities to their children that come first.

Now Matt and I have two kitties, and as Chris and Beth know, small furry ones add a great deal of joy to your life. We adore ours, and treat them as our own little ones. We have friends who do the same with their dogs and cats. It's a trend in today's society. But animals aren't children.

Children grow, and are your flesh and blood, your hopes and dreams. You work to keep them safe, fed and taken care of. Suddenly you go from being a couple to being a family.

I believe there is real growth in that.

While I don't personally believe that having kids is what makes you an Adult, I do believe that having children does change your life completely. It's just so often in our society adulthood and parenthood are expected to go hand in hand: you graduate, you get married, you have babies. That's just "the way it is", or at least was for a long time.

So, Chris and Beth, you'll have to let us know next year this time whether you are suddenly more adult, or simply parents. Let us know whether you are finally "adults" or just in a different stage of adulthood.

What do you all think?


Posted by at February 16, 2005 11:22 AM