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Are You Ready to ‘Adult’?

The commonly used word, ‘adult,’ has had a makeover in recent years. A person is considered a chronological adult at the age of 18 or 21, depending on when they could vote, drink legally or be drafted. The concept of ‘adulting,’ spills over into the realm of behavior. It could take the form of holding down a job, keeping appointments, being in integrity with one’s word, and paying the bills on time. There are moments when even the most responsible among us desire someone else who is ‘adultier,’ to take charge. This 59-year-old recovering Type A, overachiever with a solid work ethic would love nothing better some days than to hang out in a blanket fort, wearing footie pajamas, and indulging in mint chocolate chip ice cream.

I was taught responsibility at an early age. Somewhere around four or five, I helped do laundry, by sorting and folding socks that my mother would dump onto the dining room table. Toasty and warm, fresh from the dryer. To this day, I enjoy doing laundry, in part because it is a Zen activity, and because it reminds me of my mom. In addition, over the years, I was asked to set and clear the table, clean my room, make my bed (I still do it each morning, since it is my first accomplishment of the day), dust, vacuum, cook, mow the lawn, and clean the bathroom. I would help my dad clean the garage, which generally meant moving the junk from one side to the other. Gardening gave me the opportunity to plant, weed and harvest whatever veggies and flowers we grew in the yard.

I don’t remember groaning about chores since my parents had a way of making even those fun activities, and I somehow internalized the idea that as a family we (my parents, sister and I) needed to work together. Not sure how they managed to have everything look easy, since they also both worked full time, volunteered, had a circle of friends and a loving marriage. They were excellent at adulting.

I developed what I now call House Rules to which I introduced my son as he was growing up and offer these to my clients who find organization challenging.

  • If you open it, close it.
  • If you take it out, put it back.
  • If you drop it, pick it up.
  • If you make a mess, clean it up.

Pretty simple and yet, how many people follow them? I am of the ‘clean as you go,’ school in the kitchen. It is far simpler to tidy in between boiling, broiling and baking than to have a monumental mess to clean up later. I have also taken heed of the advice of a former client who was raising his three teenagers as a single father. He told them that the sink was for washing dishes, not storing them.

Amid my hectic schedule, having a haven at home helps bring balance and grounding. One commitment I make to myself each day is to have a clean kitchen before my head touches down on the pillow. That way, I can wake to a more organized morning.

I was also taught how to create a budget, balance a checkbook, do grocery shopping, change tires and oil in my car (although AAA and regular mechanic visits are my go-to for those services), make phone calls, fill out a job application, as well as a college application, apply for student loans, and drive a car. All are independent living skills.

I recall the wise words of my mentor Yvonne Kaye who, several decades ago, shared her thoughts:  “Discipline is freedom.” Free spirit that I am, I balked at that concept. She patiently explained that when one has structure, there is ample room for all manner of creativity. In the interceding years, I have come to discover the value in that idea.

When working with clients who feel overwhelmed with the physical and emotional clutter in their lives, I suggest that they clean one shelf, surface, or corner of a closet at a time. In the realm of relationships, it may present itself like cleaning up their side of the street and being accountable only for what they say, think or do. They are not responsible for anyone else’s choices. Nor is there room to blame others for theirs.

Adulting Advice

“My ma had accounting skills. She taught me how to budget, plan taxes and anything math. Housekeeping skills, I mainly learned on my own. Organizing my life was from a book called the Sidetracked Sisters Get Organized. Very popular in the early 80’s. I wasn’t satisfied with looking at my home or work and saying I didn’t know how. I read everything I could lay my hands on to be a good wife and mother, and I used it. When my son was born I promised him that I would teach him as much as he could absorb about being a self- sufficient person. He is 34 and is fully able to run his own household in spite of learning disabilities and handicaps. I know you believe me when I say, no part of that was easy.”

“I was taught basic home-making things from my Mom, my Dad taught me some car stuff. But no financial/tax type things. As far as my 3 boys, I taught them financial, budget keeping. Home stuff, laundry, cooking etc. I hope some things stuck. They are each so different, certain things just didn’t interest one where it did another.”

I’m teaching general etiquette, including writing thank you notes, how to treat others, including when dating or interested in the opposite sex, banking, budgeting, and financial management skills, household chores — laundry, cooking, cleaning, organizing, and little things like preparing for unexpected situations (always bring a jacket or keep one in the car in case the temperature drops or rains). I was taught all of these except the financial piece and dating. I learned that in college and graduate school aka “trial-by-fire”. I learned car stuff by watching my dad. I haven’t taught that to my son though.”

“No. I was taught how to have fun. The adulting I’ve never fully mastered. Thank Buddha.”

“I was taught more by others and learned more on my own, than my parents ever taught me. Now, I am teaching my sister. We just had a conversation yesterday about it and how our mother was so needy and manipulative that she deliberately made my sister dependent on her, so she would always “need” her and have to live with her. At 38, she’s fearfully learning how to take care of herself. It’s a work in progress… but at least we are making progress.”

Resources to help you adult more gracefully, include:

The Adulting Bookshelf: 6 Books on Getting Your Life Together

6 Books On How To Be An Adult That Every Twentysomething Needs To Read

And then there is, “That horrifying moment when you’re looking for an adult, but you realize you are an adult. So, you look around for an older adult. An adultier adult. Someone better at adulting than you.” – Unknown

Are You Ready to ‘Adult’?

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author.

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2018). Are You Ready to ‘Adult’?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 24 Feb 2018)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.