By Rachel Bédard, Ph.D.
Adulting. A quirky, made-up word that is ill defined, yet people are quick to mention when you are adulting incorrectly. Rarely do we see accolades for adulting properly. Let’s fix that. In fact, let’s define adulting in a positive, powerful way that is more precise and personal, and then let’s write an individual timeline.
Adulting: a delightful concept of skill acquisition that is personal to the individual in terms of tasks and timelines. In popular culture, adulting probably means moving out of the house, paying your own bills, saving for retirement (Ha! Just thought I’d throw that one in there!), and making meaningful adult decisions on your own.
In the general culture, adulting magically happens at age 18. In reality, everyone I know seems to get a special pass, as even my neurotypical college students are calling home for advice about class schedules, what to have for breakfast, should they see a doc for their sniffles, and then moving home upon graduation because housing prices are so high. Do we want to hold people with neurological differences to the same standard (which doesn’t seem to be working), or shall we claim this moment to re-write the ill-defined concept of adulting?
General concept: Self Knowledge and informed decision making
In our re-write, adulting can now be defined as a life-long process of gaining self-knowledge and engaging in informed decision making. Self-knowledge probably starts in elementary school, and certainly by middle school. Increasingly we are asking students to reflect on what they know and what they don’t know. If they don’t know how to perform a particular task, they can either learn the skill, or figure out who to ask. Forgot your lunch? Either ask the lunch staff for help, ask your teacher, or call your parents. Age-progress that to your 20s when you suffer a flat tire: either you can change it, or you know who to call. Age-progress that to the birth of your first child: either you know what to do to soothe your baby, or you phone a friend. And when you finally have money, you either save for the future on your own, or consult a financial planner. Truly, the seeds of adulting are planted early in life.
Support team: parents, then teachers and friends
In our un-revised version of adulting, our 18-year-olds were supposed to just pick up the reins and adult. In our new version, adulting starts in childhood, allowing for many influential voices to help in the adulting process. Naturally, the first teachers will be parents (and I’ll offer guidance in a separate blog posting about that special process), quickly followed by teachers and friends. Of note, the ultimate goal will be for parents and teachers to impart meta-knowledge such as problem-solving techniques and pattern identification that can be generalized across adulting challenges, not to actually solve the problems. (Yeah, read that sentence twice because most of us are guilty of over-parenting. I’ve got your back: next blog!) The goal is to create an expansive network of support that includes parents, but is not limited to parents, to assist in problem solving. (If you doubt me, hop on any neighborhood website where the most popular topics are “who can fix my roof/plumbing/car” and “I’ve misplaced my cat/dog/keys/mind.” Certified adults ask for help all the time; you just can’t always ask your mom!)
Tasks and timelines
Since we are re-writing the definition of adulthood, we get to define the tasks and timelines! Tasks of adulthood actually include using self-knowledge: knowing what you know, and then knowing who to ask for help with the next step. For those of you who love (vague) specificity, here are a few topics to consider:
- Food: cooking, cleaning up, grocery shopping, meal planning
- Housing: where to live, how to afford it, how to keep housing clean, with whom to live
- Finances: reasonable income, reasonable expenses, saving for the future
- Legal: write a will and other medical documentation (Ha! Got you on that one, as most parents haven’t done this one!)
- Social: reasonable social network, reasonable leisure activities
- Emotional: how do you process feelings, with whom, when and under what circumstances
- Medical: physical, dental, mental; know when to schedule appointments, ask for intervention, get your meds checked, know when your meds are working or not
- Executive functioning: time management, stress management, prioritizing tasks
- Exercise and wellbeing: know how and when to exercise, make exercise part of daily living, try to eat more fruits and veggies, have solid friends
When I review that list, honestly, I feel tired! Small wonder why many of our young people dig their heels in and feel as though adulting is impossible. Instead, let’s break this into small tasks that are written for an actual person and can be rewarded on a regular basis, on an individual timeline. If you want some outstanding, FREE resources and lists, please check out my most recent favorite group: OAR. Let’s recognize that the processing of adulting cannot be accomplished by age 18, but we also cannot start the process at age 18. This process starts at a much younger age, and you have probably supported people and not even recognized your role in launching the adulting process.
Let’s acknowledge the steps people are taking toward adulthood! Rather than criticize mis-steps, slow progress, or stalling out, let’s celebrate when our youngsters ask for help, try new things, and attempt self-knowledge. Let’s really focus our efforts on growth and positive steps! Everyone gets to the finish line, and you get to decide what the race/process is about, where the finish line resides, and what reward awaits you.