The moment you realize you’ve grown up

By Branwyn Wilkinson

Opinion Contributor

At this point, we all know that growing up doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t automatically become an adult the day you turn 18 (despite what the law may say), nor the day you turn 21. It doesn’t happen through some familial or religious rite of passage, nor does it occur when you leave home.

Growing up is a process. It takes years, and it happens at different rates for everyone. Becoming an adult, while it has long been described as occurring at a specific instant, is anything but a matter of one moment.

Take turning 18, for example. While some of your legal rights may change, no one treats you differently on the first day of your 18th year than they did on the 364th day of your 17th year.

Turning 18 is not the last step, nor is it the first, in the process of growing up. It is just one step in the middle of the journey. No one all of a sudden feels like an adult the day they turn 18. Few people just “all of a sudden feel like an adult” — ever. For most of us, being an adult is a more subtle realization.

It can happen when you realize you’ve finally left the rebellious teenage phase because your beliefs about rules have changed. They no longer seem to have been put in place to curb your freedom. You follow the rules because they keep things running smoothly. They help everyone get along and be productive.

Or maybe it happens when you notice you can’t remember the last time you asked for your parents’ permission. For many, this starts in high school. For example, when was the last time you asked your parents if you could go over to your best friend’s house instead of just telling them where you’ll be? The older you get, the bigger the things you don’t ask your parents’ permission for get. Eventually, there will come a day when you can just run it by them when you’re going on a trip with your friends. If you’re over 18 and have the funds to finance it yourself, they can’t really say no, right? And if you’ve already proven that you’re responsible, they shouldn’t want to.

Another sign you might be becoming an adult is if you realize that most of the annoying things your parents did throughout your childhood were actually for your benefit. That nagging about school work or college apps, or those constant “where are you?” phone calls and texts? All because they cared and wanted the best for you.

Most importantly, being an adult means knowing you’re still allowed to make mistakes. But it also means knowing that you’re in charge of fixing those mistakes. It’s expected that you know the steps to get yourself out of whatever mess you’ve made. That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for help, though. You will never be too old to ask for help.

Growing up does not mean you have all the answers. It just means you’ve proven that you can take care of yourself, so people let you.

And sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) that kind of stinks. It’s not easy to stay strong and responsible when it feels like everything’s falling apart and all you want is to be held by someone who has the power to make it okay.

A big part of growing up is dealing with the tough stuff. It is not the joy ride of freedom we all once thought it was going to be. But that’s okay.

Take comfort in the realization that you are finally one of the people who has the power to make it okay. Take comfort in the thought that you are now strong enough to deal with the challenging things.

Your whole life has been preparing you with the skills you need to make it through. That’s why growing up doesn’t happen overnight.

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