The traditional markers of adulthood usually include employment, financial independence, marriage, a home and children. And many of our millennials are taking their time achieving them, especially compared to their boomer parents.
Two writers — one an academic and the other a 20-something — question the accuracy of those touchstones. In his book, The Prime of Life, history professor Steven Mintz points out that Americans started marrying in their early 20s only after World War II. Apparently emerging adults have been around for generations, just without all the media hype. “Despite the sense that the transition to adulthood has grown longer and riskier, coming of age has never been easy,” writes Mintz. “The decade stretching from the late teens to the late 20s has long been a period of uncertainty, hesitation and indecision.”
His extensive research also looks at how Americans raise their children, and he makes the pronouncement: “ Anxiety is the hallmark of contemporary American parenting.” Beginning with prenatal testing right through those emerging adult years, we parents never stop worrying, anticipating and judging.
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Maybe it’s time to consider alternative measures to gauge how young adults are faring. Writer Brianna Wiest came up with “20 Signs You’re Doing Better Than You Think You Are,” which garnered millions of views on ThoughtCatalog.com.
Wiest explained that she compiled the list because too many millennials (and others) are measuring the success of their lives in unrealistic terms. “People who are doing really well are still often wildly dissatisfied with their lives because their perception is so blown out of proportion,” she said. “They adopt this mind-set of 'my life will not be good or successful or enjoyable until I’ve accomplished these wild dreams with tons of money and no more problems.' ” Her point is well taken, and perhaps parents, too, might use her touchstones as a way to reassure ourselves that the kids are all right.
Her “20 Signs” include the practical:
- You paid the bills this month.
- You have a job.
- You could afford a subway ride, cup of coffee, or the gas in your car this morning.
- You have the time and means to do things beyond the bare minimum, such as go to a concert or take a day trip to a neighboring city.
- You have a selection of clothing at your disposal, such as a hat or gloves in a blizzard and something to wear to a wedding.
- You have a space of your own. It doesn’t even have to be a home or apartment. All you need is a room, a corner, a desk, where you can create or rest at your discretion.
Beyond those essentials, Wiest outlines other traits that mark the growth of an emerging adult:
- You’re working toward a goal.
- But you’re not uncompromisingly set on anything for your future.
- You have one or two truly close friends.
- You know how to take care of yourself.
- You’ve been through some crap — life did not get easier, you got smarter.
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Our adult children may not be able to check off every item, but maybe we can let go of some of that anxiety that Mintz mentions, which is exactly Wiest’s point. “After reading this list I wanted people to feel a weight lifted," she said. "If you can ground yourself in those very simple things your life goes from being a roller coaster to a very grateful, joyous experience.”
Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
Photo: Hulton Archive /iStock
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