I was only pretending to be an adult (Picture: Sophia Leonie)
What age does adulthood begin? 16, 18, or 21?
Well, allow me to let you into a secret: I didn’t feel like I was truly an adult until I was 40.
And it was all down to one life-changing event – having a baby.
In my life before becoming a parent, I could come and go as I pleased. I could be as fun, spontaneous and as selfish as I liked.
In fact, work aside, my lifestyle at 38 wasn’t that dissimilar to my lifestyle at 18.
And while I was prepared for the significant shift that having a baby would bring, I didn’t anticipate feeling so fundamentally changed in my perspective on the world and in my sense of maturity.
Reading this introduction, you may assume that I was very immature before I became a mother.
I wasn’t. In fact, meeting me at any point before I welcomed my son you’d probably think I was a trademark example of a ‘responsible adult’.
I’ve worked as a secondary school teacher for almost 15 years, have been financially self-sufficient for 20, and I’m passionate (and vocal) about many issues including gender and racial equality.
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Except, I was only pretending to be an adult.
In reality, I never looked at my friends, colleagues and relatives and thought to myself: ‘I’m one of them’ – that is, until now.
There was a sense of freedom that I always fiercely wanted to retain, something that these people – these ‘proper’ adults – seemed happy to sacrifice.
And to clarify: I’m not saying that having a child automatically makes someone an adult, and everyone else remains mere children who’ll never know the true meaning of maturity.
I’ve always thought that the way women are forced to live and work in tandem is all some kind of con
But for me, before my eight month old son was born, I felt like an ‘adult imposter’ – winging every single aspect of my life, both professional and personal.
I feel like some of this feeling can be attributed, at least in part, to imposter syndrome – a phenomenon experienced by many women that tends to infantilise us, despite our obvious capabilities and achievements.
A reluctance to embrace adulthood may also be in part due to the political landscape which late millennials like myself experienced during our formative years.
New Labour promised working class kids like myself that through ‘education, education, education’ we could achieve anything. So we entered uni in the early 2000s full of hope, fresh faced and excited – the first in the family for many of us (and the first generation to be in debt for the privilege).
But the ‘credit crunch’, economic downturn and years of austerity that followed meant the prosperous, secure future that middle-class boomers enjoyed, would fail to materialise for us – no matter how hard we worked.
The stark contrast between societal expectations for women, the life that was promised to us, and the reality of what life entails, has likely been the fundamental reason why I struggled to embrace adulthood.
I just got on with it, resigned to cosplaying adulthood with side-eyes and sighs
I’ve always thought, quite frankly, that the way women are forced to live and work in tandem is all some kind of con.
We get up everyday to attend a job because we have bills to pay.
We follow arbitrary rules like timekeeping, dress-codes, or deadlines because there are consequences if we don’t, making life harder for us.
Throughout my teens and early twenties, I rejected these notions, and thought most other women felt the same.
But as I got older, I noticed most friends and peers had become invested in this life – in their jobs and the arbitrary markers of success like promotions, buying property, or getting married.
I cheered them on because I was genuinely happy that they were happy. But as I became the focus of questions like: ‘When are you getting married?’ – as if I had not regularly ranted about the outdated concept – I realised that I was an anomaly.
Despite the societal pressure for women as we get deeper into our thirties (and boy is there pressure!), I just didn’t believe these tickbox milestones made you successful, special, or more mature.
For me, it’s who you show up as in this world and how you make a difference that matters.
But, unfortunately, the world doesn’t reward that: it rewards making money and following the rules.
So, since I wasn’t capable of completely overturning the entire value system that rewards women (yet), I just got on with it, resigned to cosplaying adulthood with side-eyes and sighs – hoping no-one noticed I was only pretending to be like them.
That was until I had my baby.
It’s something that nothing in this world can prepare you for. It’s wonderful and terrifying and beautiful and horrific all at once. It tests you, physically and emotionally, to the limit.
The experience was so incredible and humbling, I found there was simply no room for cynicism.
I couldn’t pretend anymore – I couldn’t continue to give off the air that I didn’t care about the big things that happened on our life journeys.
In order to grow, we must be willing to make space in our journeys for new experiences
I did care – I cared so much about it, it was overwhelming. I knew I had the important task of making this tiny person happy, secure, and a force of good in the world.
Staring down at my newborn, it hit me: this is what it was like to actually believe in something in this world.
This is what being an adult must feel like.
Becoming a new mother has taught me that, in order to grow, we must be willing to make space in our journeys for new experiences – even if they occur within an imperfect system.
It was a lack of confidence that contributed to the nagging feeling I had for years that I wasn’t an adult. Not only a lack of confidence in myself – but a lack of confidence in the world, as I saw it.
But now, for the sake of my child – I know I must have both.
And caring for him is the most adult thing of all.
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I resigned to cosplaying adulthood with side-eyes and sighs – hoping no-one noticed I was only pretending to be like them.