Last week on Facebook I saw someone expressing the belief that adults who live with their parents or are financially dependent on their parents are not real adults because real adults never ask their parents for money or housing. I hear that sentiment or some variation of it expressed fairly frequently and it stings every time
This time it was expressed by the parent of a child with Nonverbal Learning Disorder (or maybe she’s the parent of an “adult” with NLD-“adult” was the term she used to refer to individuals over the age of 18 who live with or are financially dependent on their parents.) I said I was glad my own mother didn’t say those kinds of things about me because it was hurtful enough to hear it from a stranger and I could only imagine what it must be like to hear it from your parents.
It was only after I made that statement that I realized it wasn’t true. I know what it’s like to hear that from your parent because for years I lived with a parent who said those kinds of things and worse to me on a daily basis. I can’t tell you how great it is to no longer live with my stepfather and to no longer be constantly subjected to his toxicity. I recently heard second hand that he called me a dirt bag and I just laughed.
If by virtue of living with my mother and not having a job I’m not an adult then what am I? According to my stepfather I’m a child and a parasite. He’s free to think of me in those terms and so is anyone else but I prefer to think of myself as an adult who happens to live with her mother and not have a job.
Shortly after I saw that comment on Facebook I saw a meme asking people not to treat women who don’t have children as though they are children because having a child is not what makes one an adult.
I don’t often feel as though people look down on me for not having kids but that’s because not having kids is the least of my not-adultness. It’s nice to know that if I ever do live independently and achieve financial independence I’ll face another barrier to being seen as a full- fledged adult.
A few months ago I got in a fight with my mother’s friend as the three of us ate breakfast at a diner. She said that the volunteer work I was doing was okay but it wasn’t enough because it didn’t add up to eight hours a day. According to her being an adult means working eight hours a day and that your time is never your own. According to her I don’t want to to become a real adult because I want to have my time to myself. Guilty as charged I guess. Never having your time be your own sounds pretty fucking awful to me.
I get where all those critical people are coming from though. I’ve often thought that I’m not a real adult and that thought has often filled me with sadness and shame. I’ve often thought that there’s really nothing that separates me from a child aside from my age. I now realize that’s not true. Most children don’t think, write or express themselves like I do. Besides, although ‘childish’ is used as a negative term, I think children get a lot of things right that adults get wrong.
Regardless of what anyone thinks of my life choices or circumstances, legally I am an adult. I am currently unable or unwilling to do a lot of the things I’m legally entitled to do like driving, getting a job or getting a tattoo but there are other things I do take advantage of, like my right to vote. There has been a push in some places to deprive the developmentally disabled of their right to vote. While I don’t have the kind of developmental disability that would disqualify me from voting, I do not approve of that motion. I also don’t approve of treating developmentally disabled adults as though they’re children in adults’ bodies, even if they are under a legal guardianship. I believe voting is an inalienable right for any U.S.citizen over the age of 18 and perhaps being considered an adult is also an inalienable right for anyone over 18.
I know that the right to be treated with dignity is certainly an inalienable one, that it is not dependent on anything a person does or doesn’t do. I know that telling an adult that they’re not really an adult as a means of depriving them of dignity is wrong.
Adulthood means different things for different people. Just like marriage isn’t always a sexual monogamous relationship between one man and one woman, adulthood isn’t always getting married, having sex, having children or having a job. Adulthood cannot be mapped out in a neat little chart of developmental milestones that must be met by certain ages or else something is wrong. Adulthood doesn’t have to be a a black and white, all or nothing concept.
Some say adults should never depend on others for money or shelter. I say there’s another, more important thing adults should never depend on others for: their sense of self-worth.