Up Front by Emma Hart


Oh, Grow Up

Know what I hate? Yes, you do. Know what else I hate? Those lists of things people should be able to do to be proper... whatever. Men. Women. New Zealanders. Grown-ups. They're normative and stereotype-reinforcing and they're always going to make someone feel excluded and inferior. (The obvious exception is Hyperbole and a Half's "This Is Why I'll Never Be an Adult", being as it's the best thing on the internet.) 

Lately, however, we've had to accept that our "children" are now... offspring, or progeny. Something: but no longer children. (You can't say "our teens"; it sounds like you keep them locked in the basement for nefarious purposes.) Some time in the near future – gods willing - they'll leave home, go out into the world, and have to function on their own, without us. As adults. It's our job as their parents to equip them with the skills they need to do that. So we have to think about what those skills are. And if, like me, you're a compulsive theoriser and you have a slight (or massive) tendency to over-think things, this gets kind of problematic. 

My partner, for instance, is teaching them to drive. All adults should be able to drive, right? Except, y'know, me. Meanwhile, I'm teaching them to cook. A necessary survival skill. Not one, however, that my partner possesses. What we're saying to them is, "You absolutely need to be able to do this thing an adult member of your immediate family can't do." How is that justifiable? 

One might think that what adults need to do is be able to take care of themselves. They need to be able to do all the things their parents did for them as children. Wash, dress, feed, clean, get around, support themselves financially. Bare minimum, right? Sure it is. Unless, you know, you're ill or disabled. When I was spending most of every day in bed because my CFS was utterly crippling, I didn't cease being a grown-up, and nobody thought I had. 

Yet we have children, and we have adults, and we even have an intermediate maturing stage these days called 'teenagers'. How can we have a concept of 'adult' if we can't define it? Is it just a matter of age? People turn eighteen (or twenty-one, or twenty-five if you have a student allowance) and then get their Adult Card? 

My son will turn eighteen this year, and in preparation for this he's been carrying on an involved correspondence with the Electoral Commission. He'll be grown-up enough to be allowed to vote, to have an actual say in the future direction of his country. So... does that mean I think people who don't vote aren't proper adults? 

Man, this weather. And how about those Black Caps? 

Okay, no, of course I don't. And yes, I am way, WAY more excited about his enfranchisement than he is. 

I went and asked Google Auto-complete for advice. It's one window into the zeitgeist. Its suggestion for "adults should be able to" was "carry concealed handguns". Jesus, America. Grow the fuck up. 

And there it is. When we say "Grow up," or "Stop being so childish," we're not talking about skills. We're talking about emotional maturity. And, largely, being dicks about it. But still, there's our cultural expectation of adulthood, in the way we slag people off for behaving like children. When I say, "She acts like she's still in high school," I don't mean she's on her Learner's, sits a lot of exams and can't plan a meal. I mean she plays games with other people's emotions. I mean she lies, and slags her friends off behind their backs. I should also, y'know, stop slagging her off behind her back. 

So let me go out on a limb here, and make a "should" statement about Proper Grown-Ups. An adult should be able to say "Thank you," "I'm sorry, I fucked up," and "I need help." All of those things are hard. We all fall down over them some of the time. But we owe them to other people, and we also owe them to ourselves. I reckon mastering them (and "I love you,") might be the Key to Life. I want my kids to be kind in their dealings with others, but also to be able to stand up for themselves. Maybe I should just make them read all of Captain Awkward. 

To be honest, though, we're not really trying to turn them into adults currently. That's the long, exhausting game. Our actual goal is "people who won't starve to death in a pit of their own filth when we leave them on their own for three weeks." Auto-complete has no suggestions for that.

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