Do You View Yourself as an Adult?

This is a little hard to describe, so before I begin, I’d like to ask you to remember when you were a child. If you met a person of your current age (I’m 40), how did you view them? As an adult, right? Now return to the person you are today. In your mind’s eye, do you view yourself as an adult in the same way as a hypothetical child would?

In this way, I’ve realized recently that I don’t picture myself as a 40-year-old adult. Yes, when I look in the mirror, I see the grey hair and the wrinkles. My body feels like that of an adult. But on instinct when I think about how, say, my neighbors view me, I see myself in my 20s.

However, there’s one exception. When I’m with my nieces and nephews, the age (and height) gap is so wide that I can’t help but see myself as my actual age.

This led to a recent epiphany of sorts: Is having kids–or frequently being around kids (as, say, an elementary school teacher does)–necessary for a person to view themselves as an adult? I say this as someone who definitely does not want kids of my own.

I’m not even entirely sure why this is important to me. Perhaps my mild concern is that maturity is tied to how you view yourself or how you think the world views you. If you think people view you as a child, you’re more likely to act like a child.

I’m still processing this, so I’ll just leave it there for now. Does any of this make sense to you? Do you think our sense of adulthood is the most clearly defined by having kids? If that’s the case, what can those of us do who don’t want kids?

8 thoughts on “Do You View Yourself as an Adult?”

  1. Greetings Jamey!

    This is an intriguing question, and one I often ask myself. I am 49 (holy cow) and a physician. Yet, I do not think of myself as an adult – certainly not like I viewed adults, or my parents for that matter, when I was a child.

    I do not want this to be construed as “imposter syndrome.” This is much more a feeling of “I know I am adult age, but I do not perceive myself to be what I thought adults were when I was a child.”

    I have three young children, and I can answer definitively, having kids does NOT make me feel like an “adult.” In fact, although I do “adult” things – make rules, enforce rules, tell them to go to bed when they’re having fun, I think I feel younger and sillier and more fun with them. Well, I’d be pretty goofy without them. But, having kids does not make me feel “adult.”

    So, Jamey, I think there is a question in your musing that is not actually articulated…..What does it mean to be “an adult?” When I was a kid, adults were boring, followed rules, didn’t have fun and were well….adults, right? So, what are defining qualities of being an adult? What are defining qualities of being a child or a kid?

    Perhaps, part of being an adult is….being responsible for yourself (whether you do this well or not is irrelevant). When I was a child, I think I missed the fact (or didn’t notice) my parents like to do fun things and be fun people. And still do.

    “Being Responsible for Yourself” and “Having a Fun Attitude/Childlike wonder at looking at the world” are NOT mutually exclusive.

    Perhaps, when I was a child…..I didn’t understand what being an adult was…..gaining responsibility, learning to make good decisions, BUT no where does that say “not be fun, can’t be silly etc.”

    It would be interesting to ask my parents if they feel like adults (Ha! My Dad is 81, was in the computer industry for years, and now runs a public charter school.
    He is the epitome of “responsible adult”….but I have no idea what answer I’d get if I asked him “Do you feel like an adult?”

    Hopefully, I answered some of your question or have given you more to think about.

    Cheers!

    Reply
    • Baker said it well! I’d echo that sentiment, as I feel a lot of what he feels and was going to write something similar.

      Also, just this morning before work I was sitting on my front step with a cup of coffee. I turned a bit and looked up at my house and thought, “This is a nice house. I own this house.” I was thinking: Never in a million years would my childhood self have thought that I’d be a grown-up with a 2-story house. I’ve lived here for six years, but it still feels a little surreal at times that I’m the adult with the life that I have. Similar to what you noted, it’s a bit hard to describe, but it’s certainly a distinct feeling!

      Reply
    • Baker and Trev: I really appreciate this perspective from some folks with kids!

      As for what it means to be an adult, here’s one answer: Being an adult is knowing when to be serious/responsible/cooperative and knowing when to be silly/playful/independent. I think kids are able to catch on to that sort of thing over time, but it’s a lot easier for them to fall into silliness even when it may not be entirely appropriate.

      Reply
  2. I have a 2 year old son (with another one on the way in a few months). I still feel like a teenager (granted I’m in my 20s, but still).

    Maybe board gamers just don’t ever feel like adults because we are always playing games. Or maybe adults in general just never really feel like how we once thought of adults as kids.

    Reply
  3. Jamey,

    Absolutely not…however, I have a bit of a dual persona. As an FBI employee and an Air Force officer in he Reserves, there are large portions of my life that demand the adult Joe. That’s the one who is known for his leadership and followership traits, organizing teams, and driving analytic processes. Then, the other Joe throws on a T-shirt and plays, teaches, designs, and develops…games! Undeniably, the more fun Joe.

    I will say that at 53, I in no way resemble the 50 year old folks of my youth. I run 5-6 miles three times a week, I stay up far too late gaming, and enjoy all manner of activities that seem so different from the parents I knew at this age. Even my doughtier, who is 21, has commented more than once that my ex-wife acts much much older than me, even though she’s five years my junior. I enjoy being the high energy extrovert among my friends and acquaintances. I’ll take being a kid at heart.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    Reply
  4. Hi Jamey,

    I’m 65. I definitely don’t see myself as 65 most of the time (unless I have to do a lot pf physical work like moving, then I feel my age). Personally my mental image of myself now like being in early 40s. I think your own perception of your age always lags behind your chronological age. (At least mine always has.) I find it surprising that I now have an adult child who’s 34. My mom who is 93, is also surprised when I tell her my age.

    Until a few years ago (retirement), I worked with children as a teacher. Although I don’t see myself as a child, I still retain many of the qualities I had as a child. I could be serious when necessary when I worked with kids but I could also laugh. I liked being with kids, I enjoyed their energy (most of the time) and their perspectives. I’ve also enjoyed being with kids and some of them (especially those with special needs have taught me more than I taught them.)

    My daughter who is 34 & has chosen not to have children for several reasons, I don’t think she feels any less an adult than I do. I don’t think having or not having children makes you feel any more or less an adult than having children does. (Although I do remember how overwhelming it felt to have the responsibility of a tiny newborn.)

    Hope this is helpful.

    Reply

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