by Kristin Thieling
I recently attended a milestone birthday celebration for a young woman I’ve known virtually her entire life. It was a time for well wishing the future, reminiscing the past, and marveling at how truly short the space is between the two. There were tears, and joy, and well-deserved compliments on the incredible almost-adult she’s become.
And in the midst of so many people toasting the fantastic achievements that have come with her maturity, there was one incongruous bit of advice that I’ve been thinking about ever since: “Whatever you do,” this young woman was told, “don’t grow up.”
We hear sentiments like this all the time: that we need to hold onto eternal childhood, that growing up is a trap, that maturity is for squares. And I do understand. We are, after all, a society that worships youth. We strive to look and feel young, to fight (sometimes quite violently) against the physical and emotional trappings of adulthood and – perish the thought – older adulthood. We fetishize ourselves as children, remembering the freedom of no bills, no responsibilities, no worries.
But, here’s the thing: growing up isn’t all that bad. In fact, it’s kind of great.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked being a kid. I enjoyed summers exploring the backyard with my brother, school day lunch breaks with friends, and big choices involving more television programming and less of life’s mundanity. I liked the teenage years, too, with band practice (marching band, to be specific – I’m not that cool), my part-time job, and hanging out in friends’ parents’ basements.
I liked being young. But I love being an adult.
There’s a special pleasure that comes with maturity. A pride you get to take in some of the most basic aspects of adult life. I remember how genuinely good it felt to purchase my first major appliance, my first grown-up car, my first house. I’ve loved finding my talents and passions and working hard to turn those into my career. I love having the power to go out, or stay in, without seeking permissions. I love having a child of my own, whom I get to watch and help guide through this process of maturity. And I hope she always runs forward towards the world of adulthood unafraid, rather than stunting herself into a comfortable corner of immaturity and wasted potential.
Here’s what I’m getting at: growing up is a wonderful thing. But only if we really let it happen. We have to let go, both hands and all ten fingers, of whatever rose-colored illusions of child- and teenage-hood we hold. We have to stop protesting the passage of time, and its impacts on our physical, mental, and emotional selves, and embrace the great things that age brings: wisdom, compassion, experience, and independence. We have to accept that, inevitably, we do and will continue to get older and understand that, at some point, not growing up is not an enviable life choice. It is what we do to become fully, wholly, and amazingly ourselves – bills, warts, appliances, and all.
As we watch another batch of youth on the precipice of adulthood graduate from one course of life and move onto the next, let us all celebrate their impending maturity. Let us encourage them to grow up. And let’s start telling them – and maybe even ourselves – how great growing up really is.