To be an adult means, to me, being competent- to deal with one’s own issues without needing anybody’s help and taking care of others competently. Adulthood entails a new set of rights and responsibilities that separate an adult from a child. Some of these rights and responsibilities are totally new, and some are extensions in the degree of what was allowed before. Of course the picture is different for different people. For e.g. being allowed to drive/ travel alone (right) and being expected to drive/travel alone taking care of one’s safety (responsibility) may not be enjoyed by a child, but quite likely to be by an adult. Yet at the same time, there might be kids who enjoy this right and responsibility and adults who don’t. The degree of competence then, and even the expectations of such competence in various areas by other adult members of the society, would be what would differentiate a child from an adult. I don’t think that adulthood is a number- something attained chronologically by a natural process called biological growth. Chronological age certainly matters but it’s not the whole thing. I rather see adulthood as this process of gaining social maturity and various everyday skills to get on with life with as less dependence as a society allows its individuals. I don’t see all aspects of adulthood as things that are bestowed automatically, inevitably, on everybody crossing a particular age (say, 18 or 21). Legally speaking, it may be that simple but in real life i.e. in a familial and cultural context, that’s not how it happens. Rather much of it has to be negotiated and sometimes fought for.
There hasn’t been a specific instance or experience or time I attach to the emergence of my adulthood. In fact, I don’t remember ever being a child. Being the eldest of three children in a family that had moved to a new place, my childhood ended perhaps with the birth of my brother when I was seven. Even before that, I don’t have any memories of playing with toys. Anyways, I had to shoulder a lot of responsibilities (sometimes unwillingly) from a very young age and this I owe to the fact that my father was the only male in our nuclear family and I had to grow up to be like what a boy would have grown up to do. I loved my brother too much to ever complain about the lack of attention to the fact that I was still vulnerable, emotionally and otherwise.
I particularly remember my tuition days in class 5th when I had to cycle 3 kilometers crossing an over-bridge out of which 1 used to be in total darkness as the time for the one-hour power cut every evening coincided with end of tuition hours. I resented it a lot but seeing no other way, had to go with it for months till our tuition teacher was transferred to another city and I didn’t take up a new class. There are several such experiences that make me realize that I attained what is adulthood in my eyes, pretty grudgingly. My tears during my undergrad days when I made sure that my parents didn’t have to know about every difficulty of mine, or at least those that they6 couldn’t do anything about from such a distance, have made me an adult. My resilience has made me an adult. Interestingly, my father still doesn’t consider that I’m an adult. Of course he doesn’t say that I’m a child still. Adolescence is my bane. There is some implicit disrespect in that word, as if, you need not be taken seriously if you’re an adolescent which I’m up against. Respect for traditional values and conformity to elder family members seems to be an essential component of adulthood which I haven’t gotten close to attaining so far. I fear even when I’m 30, my father will have his reservations regarding whether I’m out of my adolescence yet!
As I said earlier, I became an adult without having tasted the pampering of childhood. Perhaps that’s the reason regression is my first response in times of stress since the last three years that I have been with my boyfriend in the kind of relationship that allows me to pour out all my difficulties in front of him. Some introspection into how my romantic relationship has been decreasing my threshold of stress tolerance and accepting the fact that I have to live alone for at least a couple of years more has made me climb up the ladder towards adulthood since the last few days. As it flows from here, for me adulthood means independence more than anything else, inevitably coupled with responsibility and increased loneliness that only increases. An adult can cry too, nothing wrong in that, but if you ask me, the adult me crying is a slip, a mistake. An adult me not wanting to get up from the bed is a feeling I have the luxury to experience only very few times, since I‘m human, but not always since I’m an adult. That’s how I see adulthood.
Now that I’m an adult, I’m expected to participate in family discussions about people I don’t even know because they are my extended family; I’m expected to see how my cousins are doing in life and offer them advice and help, on my own, no matter how far I stay away from them; I’m expected to be a representative of my family, which includes not caring about my personal opinions and emotions and supporting my father’s decisions while dealing with relatives and family friends. This is not necessarily what adulthood entails for everybody; it’s my family script for adulthood. I plan to rewrite it once I’m married and well settled professionally (being in a position of importance, according to my family), which is when I’ll have more of a say in how my family runs because I will have acquiesced to society’s demands of settling down and in my family power comes only with conformity to society’s ways. I can see I have been rambling about my family, but adulthood is a topic which always does that to me. I wish I knew adulthood means so much of loneliness; I would have appreciated my parents more for all the challenges they must have faced every day of their life while bringing us up. They haven’t been perfect, but it was never an easy job anyways.
Do I want to be more adult? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no. I would like more discipline in my life and less influence of my mood on my actions; hence yes. At the same time, I would like to, once I’m married, be a child and experience all the little little joys I missed out, with my partner; hence no. That would mean, indirectly, more or less, more influence of my mood on my actions. Perhaps the desire to keep the child in me alive is as strong as being ‘more’ adult. I hope I’ll be able to strike a good balance.