Hi there CA and screeners. Long-time reader, first time writer. I’m writing to ask for some advice on how to get my extended family to treat me like an adult.
I’m 21 years old now, about to graduate from college and start my life in the real world and I’m starting to find that my family is still treating me like I’m part of the “younger crowd.” As background, my parents waited until much later than any of their siblings to have kids, so my younger brother and I are both in a weird place where we’re actually closer in age to the next generation than ours (my next oldest cousin is in her 30s, while the next youngest after my brother is 14 now). As an example of what I’m talking about, at Christmas my grandparents have a stocking for every descendent of theirs, all the way down to the youngest great-grandchild, and there are two sets of stocking gifts: the “adult” stockings, which have things like lottery tickets and kitchen utensils, and the “kids” stockings, that have stuffed animals and coloring books. Every year I’ve gotten a kid stocking, which didn’t bother me…until I turned 18…and then last Christmas, when I was 21 and *still* got a kids stocking.
The reason I’ve been thinking about this lately is because my cousin’s wedding is coming up, and I’d really, *really* like it if I got my own invitation to it instead of being lumped in with my parents and brother (maybe even with a +1 but I totally understand if that’s not possible), but I don’t know what to say to the family at large that isn’t rude. My parents treat me like the adult I am, but what do I say to people like my cousins and my grandparents? I’m an adult, I pay taxes, I have a stable romantic relationship, and I’d just like a seat at the big kids’ table these days, you know? Or is it like being a king, where “if you have to say you’re an adult, you’re not an adult?”
Yours in awkwardness,
Sick of Coloring Books
Dear Sick of Coloring Books,
If you feel comfortable asking your parents, I don’t think it’s silly at all to say “In our family, when do the ‘kids’ graduate to grownup stuff around the holidays? Is there a Secret Dark Ritual of Becoming or do y’all just say something to Grandma?”
I think you are more likely to get a unique-to-you wedding invitation if you have a separate address from your parents, so if that’s not the case, this might not be the year for that and your cousin’s wedding might not be the wedding. Those fancy invites with the multiple envelopes are ridiculously expensive, and if your cousin doesn’t really know your significant other, it’s understandable that they might try to conserve on paper goods and money and group you and your nuclear family into a single unit.
It’s easy to understand that desire to be recognized as an adult in your family, and you’re not silly or childish for wanting it. Some of this is outside of your control, but the part that belongs to you is doing what you can to cultivate adult relationships with your extended family. Depending on the culture of your extended family, this could look like bringing your own dishes to family events (vs. piggy-backing on your parents’ contributions to the pot luck), sending your own cards/gifts on special occasions, and spending time with people one-on-one and in smaller groups in between bigger events without counting on your parents or The Matriarch/Patriarch/Family Planner to do all of the social arranging. “Favorite Cousin(s), come check out my new place, Partner & I making dinner.”
Every month, pick a family member or two and call them or Skype with them or invite them to do a thing. Ask them questions about their jobs/their life/growing up. Bring them old photo albums and ask to know who is in the pictures. Take them to lunch or a movie and pick up the check sometimes. Are there parents with young children? Offer to babysit some afternoon and make everyone dinner while the parents are out. Invite your teenage cousins come over and stay up watching movies with you so their parents can have a little privacy and you can really get to know the kids. Is someone doing a home improvement project? Can you help with painting or weeding the garden or packing for a move? Whatever you do, this is about looking for ways to contribute and to really be a part of their lives.
I predict that some people in your family will be really into this and you’ll click really well, and others just won’t be, and that’s normal. If done right this is a years-long, ever-renewable project, where you figure out what really ties you to these people and what you have in common besides the family tree.
Readers, what are some of the conventions and rituals surrounding who sits at “kids’ table” and what it looks like when you first become a “grownup” in your family?