When do you become a grown-up?

I’ve been feeling like a child in recent weeks. My mother’s passing has caused this. It’s made me wonder about adulthood.  When exactly are we grown up? I know for sure it’s not turning eighteen – even if that’s what the law says. I cringe when I think of myself at that age pretending to be all grown up. Behind my smiling persona was the same five-year-old that craved pleasing others.

Growing up must have something to do with confidence, then. So, when did I feel I could say ‘no’ even if it meant garnering displeasure from others? Perhaps in my thirties at the earliest. By then, I had suffered enough hard knocks to know to look after myself, whether that be work politics, family dynamics or my inner demons.

But while I may have gained confidence in my thirties, I still had the impatience of youth. I wanted success fast. I didn’t have time to look at life around me. This crucially meant ignoring important relationships. Looking at children, I can easily see the short-sightedness of wanting what’s in front of you – all the while ignoring the bigger picture. It’s harder to see that in yourself. Plus, confidence with impatience can easily turn into arrogance.

Thankfully I shed some of those bad traits in my forties – at least, I hope so. There’s something about that age that makes you take pause and think about the bigger picture. Maybe, it’s the physical ageing process. Maybe, it’s the realisation that those dreams of success aren’t going to become reality.  Whatever the reason, I can see why, in many traditions, forty is the age of maturity. Shakespeare has the sonnet:

‘When forty winters shall besiege thy brow

And dig deep trenches in thy beauty’s field,

Thy youth’s proud livery, so gazed on now,

Will be a tattered weed, of small worth held.’

Yet, I collapse into being a child when mother passes away. My forties, then, feel more like a staging post before the next maturing. Up until now, I’ve been dealing with growth and birth – now I’m dealing with loss and death. I can see it the eyes of elders – a wisdom, a knowing, a clarity. Perhaps that’s when I’ll be grown up.

Bilal

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