When Are You a Grown Up?

Grown UpWhen are you grown up? That’s a question I’ve always been mildly plagued by.

And so today, as I’m taking the summer a little bit more lightly (and catching up on some knitting!), I thought I’d rerun this column I wrote back in September of 2009 that takes a stab at answering that question.

I was not a happy teenager. I didn’t particularly like the high school scene, the ridiculous courses, the boring teachers, and the regimented schedule.

I used to dream of finally being a grown up and being allowed to make my own decisions.

I idolized adulthood.

Then I hit eighteen and nothing magical happened. Surely I’d feel like a grown up in university, though, right? Or maybe when I landed my first full-time job?


Many of my friends seemed comfortable in their skin. They knew who they were, and they weren’t afraid of letting others know where they stood. But I was still waiting for some magical writing from heaven to appear and label me, once and for all, an adult, so that I could feel capable, mature, and competent, too.

Unfortunately the writing failed to materialize. And yet, sometime in the last few decades, I must have crossed an invisible line. It may not have been accompanied by thunderous applause, but I definitely passed from mini-me to fully-me. Even though I can’t define the precise mode of this miraculous transformation, I can tell you the results.

I knew I was a grown up when…

I knew I was a grown up when it came to men when I could stop asking, “Does he like me?”, and start asking, “Do I like him?” And when the answer was yes, I married him.

When it came to children, I knew I was a grown up when I stopped worrying what other people thought of my kids’ behaviour or development and just concentrated on being the best mom I could be.

I was a grown up, too, when I stopped pulling out the makeup and the mousse to impress other people, but just started doing it to make myself feel pretty. When I started prioritizing feeling good in my body, I felt like a grown up in it, too.

I was a grown up when I could calmly talk to a salesperson about what their establishment had done that was beyond the pale, instead of letting them walk all over me.

I was a grown up when I could invite people over for dinner and not worry about whether they’d like what I prepared. I’d just cook what I liked, and figured everybody else would make do.

I was a grown up when I called my mom for her advice, and not her approval.

I was a grown up when the fact that my father didn’t understand me became a cause for pity for him, rather than for angst, anger, or introspection on my behalf.

I was a grown up when I started letting myself dream dreams, instead of living out the dreams other people thought I should have.

I felt like a grown up when I acted like others were my equals, instead of feeling insecure around those who were of higher rank or status than I was.

I felt like a grown up when I could run into an acquaintance and have a conversation and not remember until the next day that I was supposed to be mad at them. I guess I don’t carry grudges the same way anymore.

And I knew I was a grown up when I stopped worrying about whether or not I was one.

I don’t have to wait for my life to start; I have to make my life what I want it to be. This is my life; it’s up to me to live it. After all, I am a grown up, even if it’s been a long time coming.


  1. Jessica says:

    When I was 18, I experienced a surreal moment when I realized that the first thing I subconsciously did, upon introduction to a guy/man, was to check his left hand for a ring! I felt amused that I was THAT grown up already. LOL
    The other uncomfortable moment at that age occurred while going to a movie with 4 kids & their dad (with full blessing of the mom, who had to work that afternoon – I was truly like a member of their family as I was growing up). None of us thought anything of this movie afternoon. Until someone thought the dad & I were a couple. I was horrified!! And hurt that now I was grown up enough that I needed to consider how totally innocent things might appear inappropriate to people on the outside. I hated that part of becoming a respectful, authentic, Christian adult. But, I recognized that I’d never want to be seen as a threat to any marriage, no matter how untrue the thought would have been!

    • Great examples! That’s funny about the wedding ring, but really reinforces the idea that married people SHOULD wear one!

  2. I never really felt like a grown up until both my parents died.
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  3. THUMB UP! You are truly grown up !There are few I ‘d like to grow up on:)


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  4. 4 years ago, I was racing around the house trying to make it perfect for my dad’s impromptu visit. I had a pie, made with jello and whipped cream, I was slowly moving the pie to the fridge to set, frantic inside. My dad would be there any moment. My mind has more control over my body than I think, and the franticness moved into my fingers and as I could hear the sound of footprints coming up the stairs, and I yelled “did anyone hide the laundry baskets?!” my fingers let go and the pie did too. 4 cups of sticky jello and whip cream all over the floor. I cried, and cried, and cried. That meltdown led me know I had huge approval issues and that meltdown helped me grow up! I am happy to say I no longer hide the laundry, or bake pies to impress my father. (thanks to therapy) I’m on my way ladies!! Woot!
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  5. I thought I was the only one who didn’t feel like an adult yet. I’m hoping that I’ll get there in the next few years, haha. Though when I do seriously think of it, I’m more grown up than I think I am. My biggest thing is feeling comfortable in my body and with myself as a person. I was actually talking about this with a friend awhile ago, how we hadn’t really been able to discover exactly who we were by ourselves since we had gotten marries fairly young. And I also had children right away so I find that I have made my identity about my husband and children, and not south about me.
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  6. The emotional and psychological maturation process continues throughout one’s adult life. Feeling “grown up” is a relative thing.
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  7. Heldinhisgrip says:

    I’m in my mid-30’s, married, and have a toddler and an infant. And I still have “Why are these little people calling me Mom?” moments! I don’t feel old enough to be a parent.

  8. Alchemist says:

    I started feeling like a grown-up when the incoming first year graduate students started looking like babies. And when I realized I could decide what to do with my money and research by myself.

    I don’t think you should treat people of higher rank and social standing like equals. You should treat them with the respect that befits their position, and be ok with the fact that they are older/ wiser/ more experienced with you. My advisor was founding our field before I was born. He’s forgotten more chemistry than I’ve learned. I am not his equal. Similarly, my students are not my equals. They should not treat me as a peer, but as their teacher. This is good and proper. You can acknowledge someone as a superior without acting like an inferior human being. If that makes any sense.

  9. Love your list, Sheila! So much about relaxing and feeling comfortable in our own skin. Feeling grown up? I could add, ‘When my doctor retired and the new doc is so much younger than me”, but maybe that’s more middle-aged than grown up!
    Have a lovely weekend,
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  10. Christin says:

    I had a friend in her late twenties tell me a couple years ago that she knew she was grown up when people younger than she came to her for help, and she had answers for them. For me, I finally felt like a woman, rather than a girl, when I became friends with the man who is now my fiance. He was the first person I’d ever known to view me and treat me as a woman and not a girl. He changed my perspective of myself.

  11. Loved this!

  12. I love this articule its amazing how i saw my self in your words its true i dont now or in what moment but definitible i have this littles moments when i surprise and think good how much i grow up and it feel fantastic its nice have confidence, respecful and joy for this life that i living thank you for share.

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