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Growing Up at 26

December 5, 2013

When your mom has a blog, you should have no expectations, that is,  NO  EXPECTATIONS of privacy. Just like if you should enter your personal information on  (Whaddaya mean, HIPAA regulations guarantee privacy?)

Today is son Magister’s 26th birthday. Before he left home for college, I would decorate his bathroom the night before his birthday. In the morning,  he would find balloons in the bathtub,  confetti in the sink and goofy, adoring messages written in lipstick on the mirror. This is the closest I can get to that tradition now.

happy birthday nelson


Several weeks ago, while we were sipping overpriced wine at a Nashville bistro, Nelson made an interesting observation. He said he didn’t really think of himself as an adult yet. He just didn’t feel adult like, nor  did many of his friends.  I pondered that. I mentioned it to Eddie. Coincidentally, Eddie had recently had a conversation with our church men’s group about what does it mean to be a man in today’s world.


adulthood_is like the vet

Such questions were easier before the sweeping social changes that began in the 1960’s. Back in the day, most men and women of 26 were married with multiple children and a mortgage. Then came the Pill, no-fault divorce, feminism, dual wage earning, and what was once referred to as shacking up (now it’s called Romantic Co-habitation or just the New Normal). All of these have had a transformative effect on how one spends one’s twenties.

Even college changed – dramatically. Student protests of the 60’s led to more student rights and  choices. We chose to end the tradition of college administrators’  assumption of  in loco parentis, to lower curriculum standards and loosen graduation requirements, drink more beer, and usher in an era of co-ed everything (which today includes dorm roommates and bathrooms). And while studying demands diminished, the time spent getting a bachelor’s degree increased for many. As long as the parents kept paying, why end a good thing?  Party hearty, dude!

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By the end of the 20th century, most college-educated twenty-somethings were postponing marriage for graduate school and/or Sex in the City lifestyles that extended adolescence. Men today are no longer obliged to marry for sex (or even for fatherhood). Both men and women in their twenties seem largely content to have serial non-committed relationships, perhaps fearful of the divorce plague that ripped their parents’ marriages apart.


Early in the new century, even before the economy began to tank, new college graduates began having serious difficulty finding entry-level jobs with a career path. Forty years of ill-formed policy decisions by government, industry, and institutions of higher education began to yield consequences that drove 20-somethings back home rather than into the job market. In 2013, with the job market still tepid, a full 38% of singles 20-34 are said to be living with their parents. These “boomerang kids” have a “failure to launch,”  according to pundits.

A group of Princeton sociologists have proposed that our society has adopted a “new timetable for adulthood.” Some psychologists and sociologists are arguing that the age span between 18-late 20’s defines a new and permanent stage of societal life  called “emerging adulthood, just as the concept of adolescence was introduced a century ago.

GiraffeAs traditional gender- and age-characteristic roles have flexed and bended over the past half-century, the rites of passage that once clearly defined moving into adulthood have eluded many.  Until recently, conventional wisdom equated adulthood with five milestones: completing school, leaving home, obtaining employment that affords financial independence, marrying, and having a child. The New York Times reported that among 30-year-olds in 2000, less than 50% of the women and one-third of the men had completed such rites of passage. By comparison, the figures in 1960 were 77% of women and 65% of men. Canadian research has indicated that between the early 1970’s and 2001, the time it took for an individual to pass the same number of milestones increased by  five years (from age 25 to 30).

But some people never marry. And increasingly, many marriages do not produce children. So, if you miss those milestones, does that mean you aren’t an adult? (I would argue, by the way, that anyone who has a “baby mama” or “baby daddy” instead of a spouse is infantile, regardless of age.) General Surgeons have a minimum of 13 years of higher education, and specialities require even more. Not adults until they complete their education? What about the newly divorced in their 30’s and 40’s who move back in with parents for awhile – children, all?

Clearly we need new rites of passage and new milestones to mark the crossover from  adolescence to adulthood.

But back to son Nelson.  I am exceedingly proud that my  26-year-old is responsible, wellpoe boy employed, financially independent, has a  healthy savings account, and to date has managed to avoid making mess-up-his-whole-life, Bohemian Rhapsody-sized mistakes.  He is, undoubtedly, a more sensible and mature human being than I was at 26. (Thanks be to God!)

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So, not just for Nelson’s  benefit, but for  all 20-somethings who are not content with “emerging adulthood” but are ready for the Real Thing, Eddie and I have crafted this list:

willy wonka youre welcom

Ten Ways to Be an Adult in Your 20’s

  1. Read books  that change you. Occasionally, take the time to read something not to be entertained, but to grow.
  2. Be engaged. I’m talking about current affairs here, not the romantic variety. You have the vote; respect that power and stay informed. (Tip: Comedy Central is not a news channel and Jon Stewart is not a journalist.) Listen to both sides of every issue and probe for facts and evidence. Don’t be swayed by emotional appeals; good intentions alone make for very poor policy decisions. Your dad taught me this: when your head and heart agree, that’s where you should take your stand.
  3. Watch your figure. You’ve already passed the age when you can eat or drink anything without adverse consequences. Take care of your body; it’s the only one you have. Work out, eat some veggies, and make regular health check-ups with a doctor, dentist, and optometrist a priority.  You won’t regret it.
  4. Remember, it’s not all about you. Open your eyes to the suffering, need,  hopes and dreams of the humanity all around you.  Try always to be a blessing; a giver, not a taker.
  5. Know what you believe in and stand up for it. Everyone has a worldview, a base of assumptions about how life works. Why are we here? What is our purpose in life? What is worth suffering for? What is true, and good, and beautiful? Clarify your belief system and test it for consistency with reality. Then you can face the snarksters down. They will admire your courage and your depth.
  6. Own the consequences of your actions. Don’t play the victim or expect someone to cover for you. You will make mistakes. Learn from them.
  7. Consider the old virtues. Nothing – not wealth, nor worldly success, nor popularity – is more important than having character. The corny, old school values like honor, duty, respect for authority, integrity, prudence, loyalty, self-discipline and faith are disdained by popular culture; but “cool” people often die early and empty. Behold the good in the world. (And you might consider  expressing wit and humor without resorting to the  profanity and potty humor that you found to be sophisticated and daring when you were 13 – just sayin’.)winston churchill on manhood
  8. Seek wisdom. Wisdom is knowing how and what the world really is, and learning how to navigate the seas of life without capsizing your boat. It requires looking backward at history (including your own) and gaining insight from every new experience. Wisdom is the fringe benefit of aging (when you do it right).
  9. Find a role model and be one. Find someone you admire as a model for the mature adult you want to be. If possible, ask that person to mentor you, professionally or personally. Realize that you are already a role model for young people around you. What do they see? Your life will make an impact on your family, your children, your friends, your coworkers, and your community. What do you want that impact to be?
  10. Do hard things.  If there is a way to summarize being an adult – a responsible man or woman –  it is that adults do hard things. Life throws slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at all of us. Adolescents seek the easy way. Men and women do what is necessary to make the world better, to make themselves better, to overcome adversity: to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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That’s our take on what it takes to be a grown-up.  What’s yours?

adulthood dropping fish bombs

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2013 12:12 pm

    When I turned 30, I decided I was going to stay 30. I fought against growing up,( even though I had a marriage, a mortgage and a son. Today I have been 30 years old for 21 years. I still have a mortgage and a marriage, and a twenty-something son and a soon-to-be-18 daughter, and they all love having a father who doesn’t quite act his age, whatever that means. I have never been able to shake the feeling that I am not quite the man my father was. I am going to study your list and maybe grow up a little. But just a little.

    • December 5, 2013 6:38 pm

      Completely acting one’s age at all times would be overkill, don’t you think? You are a fine man as well as our favorite Pan, Darrell (although that was before I saw the Divine clip).

  2. December 5, 2013 9:47 pm

    Eve, I have five wonderful nephews. One has already successfully navigated the path to adulthood but the other four (ages 13 – 23) and (with your permission) I would like to include your list with their Christmas gifts this year. They are really beautiful young men, but I think all of us need guidance and you touched on so many pearls of wisdom that I want to share with them. I hope all is well in your world, my friend! Love, Joanna

    • December 10, 2013 7:37 pm

      Joanna, I am honored! So good to hear from you. Think about you all the time. Hope you and yours have happy holidays and a fabulous 2014. Love you.

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