Growing Up Is Hard to Do: Becoming an Independent Adult


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Our neighbors here have the most amazing roses. They’re so beautiful.

When you’re young, you think once you hit the magical age of, say, 18 or 21, you automatically become an adult, with adult ideas, responsibilities, and respect.

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. There’s no magical age at which you cease to feel like a child and begin to feel all grown up. I sort of suspect that even when I’m in my thirties and forties I’ll still feel some of the same insecurities and childishness I did when I was twelve.

When I was four, I was adept at spotting self-centered adults. Generally, they were the ones who didn’t have any children of their own yet, or the ones who were high on their own importance. They were the ones who told me I couldn’t have a tiny cup of coffee even though I knew my parents let me, or who wouldn’t let us climb four feet in the air on our playhouse because DANGER, or who yelled at us for being kids and talking somewhat loudly in a hallway. They didn’t care to get to know me, to learn that I was, in fact, the world’s most cautious child (and also generally obedient) and would never do anything that was in the least frightening. Getting me to climb four feet in the air was a real feat. Now that I’ve grown up, I think I can manage five–on a good day.

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Of course children need adults in their world, people to give them boundaries and security and love. But with an overbearing culture of adultishness, where adults are always right and children are always wrong, how do we expect these same children to grow up and have opinions and ideas of their own? As a four-year-old, I felt miffed because no one thought that I had ideas or was a person. As a twenty-something today, have I gained the right to personhood yet?

So here are some suggestions for those twenty-somethings (or teenage-somethings) who are hoping to gain their independence, but don’t know how to balance that fine line between respecting authority and making up their own mind.

1. Start making your own decisions about small things. The small things are a great place to start for people who aren’t confident in their decision-making abilities. Decide what books or clothes you’ll buy or when to do your homework and when to hang out with friends. Don’t always rely on your parents or friends to tell you what to do.

2.Don’t always ask advice from people who you know will tell you the same thing. Seek out different viewpoints and ideas, because how can you really grow if you’re hiding behind other people’s opinions? And once you have the advice, it’s up to you to make the decision.

3. Learn to say no to people. This has been a hard one for me, especially, as I don’t like disappointing people. But sometimes you just can’t take on that 32nd violin lesson, even if you DO have an open hour right at that time. So say no if you have to, even if it might make someone sad or upset.

4. Learn to take responsibility for your own decisions. It’s your decision, not your parents’ or your pastor’s or your friends. And if it goes wrong, saying “The parents you gave to me!” in a whiny voice to God doesn’t make you any less culpable for a bad decision, and it’s not any cuter than when Adam first blamed Eve. Of course you should still honor your parents—and respect their ideas. But that doesn’t mean they’re perfect, and it definitely doesn’t mean that they’re still in control of your life once you’re an adult.

5. So, you should transition from asking permission to seeking advice. Parents should become friends instead of authorities, wise people in your life who you seek to learn from instead of people you fear who seek to run your life.

6. Don’t be afraid to make different decisions than other people around you would make, or even than you would have made a few years ago.  Ending up in China was never my original plan–when I got married, nothing was farther from my mind (or from Jared’s mind)–but it’s been a good decision. We’ve met new people, found a whole new culture, and started learning a language. So don’t let fear of the unknown or of public opinion stop you from making a decision.

7. After all, good or bad, decisions have to be made. And what most of us forget (at least I do!) is that doing nothing is also making a decision. Inactivity can be worse than boldly stepping out and taking charge. And who knows–it might just lead you to your same hometown doing what you’ve always dreamed, or it might just lead you to China!

And since there are conveniently seven points,  I’m linking up at This Ain’t the Lyceum for Seven Quick Takes this week!

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2 thoughts on “Growing Up Is Hard to Do: Becoming an Independent Adult

  1. baileyelizabethb

    Thanks for sharing this post with me, Annika. This was good. I’m thinking so many different things right now.

    1) I am such a fan of respecting and listening to kids, taking into account their opinions and beliefs, instead of hammering down your own. Like you said, how are these kids supposed to grow up to be respectful, sensitive adults if they’ve been disrespected and talked down to their entire lives?

    2) This post immediately reminded me of all the young adults I know still living under authoritarian rule. All of these things you mentioned — parents going from authority figures to wise mentor friends, making up your own mind, making and taking responsibility for your decisions — are all adult, independent things….and all the things these young adults cannot experience under such hyper-authoritative parents. I’m so thankful my own parents easily allowed me to transition into adulthood without realizing it.

    3) I loved your implication that responsibility for one’s self is the primary attribute of adulthood. When I was a younger teenager, I thought in terms of “we” — “we believe,” “we do it this way,” etc. It was weird to being saying “I.” But it was good — to still draw on the wealth of parental wisdom, the strength of a family bond, and still feel fully confidently saying, “I do,” “I believe,” “I am.”

    I’m bookmarking this post and coming back to it. Now you’ve got me thinking.

    1. Thanks for commenting! Like you, I’m thankful my parents gave me the space to grow into my own person, and like you, I still had that strong family bond that was there to help me when I needed it. I don’t know of many parents who’d let their twenty-something newly-married daughters jet off to China for a year without a qualm!

      I really think the transition from parents as authority-figures-who-must-be-obeyed to parents as mentors/friends is a hard one for many parents and young adults, though I wonder if it’s easier for parents of large families because they have so many other kids to keep straight that they don’t have time to worry about the older ones! My mom couldn’t have been a helicopter mom for us older kids unless she wanted to let the younger ones run riot. 🙂

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