Defining the “grown-up”

I hadn’t seen Mandy in almost four years. We met up last week for lunch when my parents and I were passing through Atlanta. It was nine years ago that Mandy and I were in our mid-20’s and living it up as single gals.

At one point during lunch, her 16-month-old daughter waddled around the table and Mandy scooped her up so she didn’t run away.

“I’m a mom now!” she said. “This is my life!”

My own mother, admiring Mandy’s precious daughter, said, “Maybe one of these days Natalie will grow up, too!”

I’m sure my mom didn’t think a thing about what she said, but it really got me thinking. Maybe in her generation that’s the case, but in 2014, are we really still at a place where you can’t be considered an adult unless you’re married and have children?

Washing feet and checking for jiggers at a clinic in Uganda.
Washing feet and checking for jiggers at a clinic in Uganda.

So I’m 33 and not married. I don’t have any children. I have former students who are 19, married, and have a family. Does that make them more of a “grown-up” than me, someone who just spent a year living in a third-world country? Am I somehow immature because I gave up a year of my life, and certainly any hopes of finding a husband, to serve God in Africa? Should I have stayed here in America just to “grow up” and start a family?

What defines a grown-up? I guess it’s a matter of opinion, but here’s what I think:

You put God first, family second, friends third.

Those three things were always being rearranged throughout my high school and college days, but once I got them in the right order, I feel I was able to live more at peace. Being a grown-up means having your priorities straight, and what you believe in should always be top priority. For me, that’s God. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Your homestead is a good financial decision

For years I always looked down on guys who lived at home, especially if they were in their 30’s. Then I moved to Africa, came home unemployed, and I’m living in my parents’ house. More and more I’m seeing single people do this, and while I think it used to signify an immature person who can’t get their life together, I now see the other side of things. If living at home is the best financial decision, what’s immature about that? If buying a house is a better financial decision than renting, do it. If renting is your best option, do that. If where you live is best for your bank account and your future, you’re a grown-up.

You spend more nights in than you do out

Hanging out with mom and spending the evening at my nephew's baseball game.
Hanging out with mom and spending the evening at my nephew’s baseball game.

Mandy and I were out almost every night of the week when we were single gals in LaGrange, Georgia. Whether it was eating wings at “the Pub,” drinking Boat Drinks at The Lazy Peach, or enjoying chocolate, wine and live music at Ou La La, we were always out and about. Mandy may have a husband and a child now, but we are both content with spending time at home, instead of going out. Grown-ups are OK with this. Grown-ups are fine with reading a book on a Friday night or watching a movie at home on a Saturday evening. Grown-ups also know that if they sporadically do want to meet up with friends for a drink or a movie, this does not make them immature.

You don’t dress like a teenager

Since my return to the US from Uganda a month ago, I’ve noticed that the trend these days is “trampy.” Harsh word, I know, but how else do you explain it? “Inappropriate” just doesn’t seem to do style these days its justice. I’m currently working part-time at an office in town, and I’m amazed at the inappropriate things some “grown-ups” wear to work. Grown-ups dress like adults. That doesn’t mean dressing like an old woman at a nursing home. It’s totally possible to be attractive, beautiful, and even sexy, while still having class and dressing like an adult.

You believe you are a grown-up

This is really the only one that matters. If you have embraced the trampy style of teenagers these days, party like it’s 1999, would rather hang out with your friends than your family, and live outside your means, but still feel like a grown-up, then that’s on you. If it means getting married and having children, then that’s your right as well. For me, it means putting God first, staying in more than going out, dressing appropriately, and making good financial decisions.

Some people might not see you as a grown-up until you are married and have a family, but what really matters is how you see yourself and how God sees you. I believe I’m a grown-up. A husband and children will not define that for me.

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