I won’t grow up
I don’t want to wear a tie
And a serious expression
In the middle of July
And if it means I must prepare
To shoulder burdens with a worried air,
I’ll never grow up, never grow up
It’s not your imagination: every study shows that young people are assuming the responsibilities of adulthood later and later. So it should come as no surprise that the term “adulting” has come into the lexicon. This word sums up the surprise, if not outrage, that many middle-class Millennials feel when they have to sort things out at the DMV, stand on line at the bank, smarten up for a job interview, or cook instead of ordering in. Forget the Peter Principle, this is the Peter Pan Principle, the glorification of youth and mockery of the real world. You as a parent may find it hard to deal with your twenty- or thirty-something’s determined immaturity because chances are you were more grown up at her age. Adulthood wasn’t a choice then; now it’s an option.
Apparently the word “adulting” showed up as early as 2008 (not surprisingly on Twitter), but it’s really taken off in the last year or two. The word was recently added to the Urban Dictionary and was nominated for “Word of the Year” by the American Dialect Society. In 2011 Kelly William Brown launched her popular blog, AdultingBog.com, to good-naturedly shepherd the clueless through the rocky shoals of self-reliance. She says the process of taking care of yourself is an important one; “It feels good when you're adulting.”
Ms. Brown followed this up with her popular book, Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps. Along the same lines is Almost Adulting: All You Need to Know to Get it Together (Sort Of) by Arlen Rose. Almost Adulting has been described as “Perfect for budding adults, failing adults, and eaters of microwave brownies.” By the end, apparently, “You will have leaned how to pass as a real, functioning, appropriately socialized adult . . .You will learn how to dress yourself, travel alone, and make Internet friends who are cool and not murderers.”
But the advice doesn’t stop there. In Portland, Maine, there’s now The Adulting School, which teaches such grown-up skills such as how to get your car’s oil changed, how to fold a fitted sheet (I never knew there was a technique), and how to manage your money. Proponents of all this advice-giving say it fills the gap left by the demise of Home Economics and other practical classes, which have been dropped from the junior high curriculum.
Despite the popularity of the concept and the term, adulting is facing a backlash, some of it from the Millennials themselves. Last year Danielle Tullo wrote an article in Cosmopolitan called “Kindly Shut the Hell Up About ‘Adulting’”. In it she states, “‘Adulting’ implies that being an adult is not a necessary part of growing up, but rather a life choice you’re hesitant to fully buy into. It’s singularly Millennial – especially female, at that – immaturity that reduces being a grown-up to a hobby.” In part she blames the return home for the phenomenon, a topic we covered in When It’s Time for them to Move Out and You Again. She claims, “Many of us have been shielded from the full responsibilities of adulthood. . . unlike our parents’ generation”, which means not having to worry about going to the grocery store or paying the cable bill. Tullo concludes that her peers’ refusal to mature devalues them individually and their generation collectively. “It’s great that I didn’t turn my white T-shirt pink when I did my own laundry, but that’s not the greatest thing I’ve done or will ever do as an adult. So, let’s retire #adulting, so we can actually start to act like adults.”