How Do You Know If You’re a Grown-Up?

 How Do You Know If You're a Grown-Up? by Jay FeldStarting at the age of 9 or 10, children begin wanting to be grown-ups. They want to experience grown-up perks and prerogatives such as:

  • Staying up late
  • Having money to buy things
  • Eating ice cream whenever they want
  • Driving a car

To a child, being a grown-up means you have arrived. Hidden from them, of course, is the dark underbelly of adulthood – needing to stay up late to accomplish 30 hours’ worth of tasks in a 24-hour day, watching one’s waistline expand as a result of eating whatever one wants, paying for gas, auto insurance, etc., to keep the car on the road. Children see the outward manifestations of being a grown-up but don’t understand the hard choices their elders have to make in order to become and remain healthy, productive, well-functioning adults.

What are some touchstones of healthy adult functioning?

  • Advocating for one’s own happiness.

Adults work at taking care of themselves — who else will?  When they’re hungry, they eat; when they’re angry, they self-soothe; when they’re lonely, they pick up the phone; when they’re tired, they take a nap. Each and every day we need to consciously and intentionally experience joy and exercise gratitude; children do this naturally, but most adults need to work at this.

  • Practicing emotional sobriety.

Being aware of our emotions, calling them by their proper names, owning the responsibility for them (as opposed to, “you make me so mad!”), and expressing them with a balance of honesty and kindness, are essential grown-up skills. If you can’t “do” emotions tolerably well, you’re not a grown-up, no matter how old your driver’s license says you are.

  • Relating well to others.

In a “big enough” relationship, I invite you to tell me who you are, what you need from me, and what you are offering me, and then you invite me to tell you the same about me. We each maintain our own “I,” and together we create a comfortable yet growing “we.” This kind of relationship is characterized by understanding, sympathy, acceptance and respect.

  • Processing one’s pain well.

An adult knows how to navigate the stages of “good grieving.” She knows how to process her pain – not stuffing/hiding it, not projecting it onto those around her, but “turning it over” to her Higher Power and her community (a safe, sympathetic, supportive, non-shaming community).

  • Living in reality.

Magical thinking is normal for children, but a serious hindrance to living a satisfying adult life. An adult understands the “law of the harvest” (that we reap what we sow) and that “if nothing changes, nothing changes.” An adult understands the importance of discipline – every day we do things we don’t particularly like to do, in order to achieve a result that we do indeed like.

J.M. Barrie, speaking of his character Peter Pan, said, “All children, except one, grow up.” All the rest of us will grow up — but will we grow in maturity, skillful living, wisdom and love, or just get grayer and more stooped? If you’d like to talk more about putting away childish things and pressing on into adulthood, please write or call.

Jay R. Feld HeadshotDr. Jay R. Feld
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
(917) 572-4068

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