WHEN DID WE BECOME ADULTS?

We keep hearing how society is now ageless and midlife is no longer ‘old’. So are we all just big kids?

I always used to wonder when the moment would come that I would know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was a grown up. In my case there was always a definite resistance. Most of all I wanted to have fun and put off responsibility for as long as possible. So instead of getting a proper job after uni I went and lived in France for a few years. Yes there was the income and a pokey Paris flat with my French boyfriend, but I was just playing at being an adult. All decisions were based on fun and if it felt too much like hard work, I’d jack it in and move on.

Starting my journalism career on teen mags Just Seventeen and Sugar meant that well into my 30s I was still living the good times. I couldn’t believe I was being paid to do something I loved so much. In spite of the long hours it never felt like work, and the social life that went with it meant the fun literally never stopped. I can’t deny that I was totally wrapped up in having the best possible time for as long as I could – and it was the same for most friends of that era.

Buying a flat at 35 and becoming a mum at 37 most definitely gave me a sense of responsibility but I still often felt clueless, like I just wasn’t ‘ready for all this’. Wielding a pushchair and having my name on a deed felt like real milestones, but the confidence and certainty I thought I’d feel, and the adult wisdom to make good life choices, just never came.

“I often felt clueless, like I just wasn’t ‘ready for all this’.”

According to a survey* 31 is the age when Brits feel like they’ve reached adulthood, with home ownership being the defining moment for 75% of us. Buying our first car comes not far behind, with the purchase of washing machines and dish washers also featuring on the list, which seems a bit tragic.

But I know I’m not alone in having put off a real sense of adulthood for a lot longer than 31. It varies enormously depending on our circumstances. Asking the Audrey community to share their experiences, for many, losing much loved parents was a real ‘grown up’ landmark. For one it came when buying a house on her own. For another it was being widowed and left with a young child. One member told us it was “around 10 when I realised my parents were not going to act like parents”. Another told us “When my mum and I left my abusive dad when I was 16 and I saw the enormity of what my mum had to deal with emotionally and financially”. And one summed it up: “Being a grown up is about making sensible decisions and doing the things that need to be done, despite how you’re feeling”.

“I’m not playing at it – it’s real.”

Now in my 50s I definitely don’t feel like a kid anymore. I’m not playing at it – it’s real. What changed? Losing people you love can bring about a paradigm shift and that was the case with me. Coming to terms with the death of two good friends forced me to grow up. For a while the world didn’t feel safe and it certainly wasn’t fun. Ultimately it’s given me an awareness of what matters and a sense of purpose I’ve never really had before. I’ve found myself making plans and decisions with a certainty and drive that have always eluded me. What I’ve discovered is that making things happen can be fun too. And you don’t have to give up on the ‘big kid’ moments just because you own a dishwasher.

* Survey by Appliances Direct.

Words: Marina Gask