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?
236 thoughts on “#713: “I’m ready to graduate from the kids’ table.””
It took until I was 28 for my family to finally make me (and my brothers!) “adults” in terms of the Christmas gift exchange.
I was 27 and married *before* I stopped getting a pillowcase full of presides on Christmas morning.
I’m 26 and my sister is 28. Whenever we spend Christmas with our parents we still get christmas stockings filled by “santa” left outside our bedroom doors on christmas eve (used to be left at the end of our beds when we were sleeping but then boyfriends started happening and they understandably didn’t want to intrude in the middle of the night!). We also get huge piles of presents left for us under the tree in the present sacks that we had growing up. I’m not sure how this cycle will ever end. In recent years my sister and I have felt bad about the amount of money and time the parents spend on Christmas so now they each get a big pile of presents to open from us on Christmas morning. I think we need a family intervention. I have a feeling that this behaviour might stop when grandchildren happen but it could just as easily spiral into more and more mountains of presents. I do sometimes envy my fiancé who buys one gift for each of his parents and is done for the year.
Some folks I know have succeeded in breaking this cycle with direct communication about changing the tradition. “How about this year, everybody gets everyone else just one or two presents, and we use the money we don’t spend on a nice dinner (or family vacation or something else that makes sense).”
Kids (or the one kid I currently have) helped with this for me. We agreed to just one or two presents for the adults and making Christmas more about spoiling my only child who is also the only grandchild. Not sure I can help you with the piles of presents for the child(ren) as I have been less successful there. There were less presents this year but only because we were moving to a different country (no exaggeration) in the new year and had very little room for extra things!
Among friends we went from exchanging gifts, to secret Santa one gift per person, to lets save each other the hassle and go out to dinner together over the years as we got to know each other better. The final evolution where we don’t bother with gifts is by far the best!
As someone who just sent out wedding invites, I can confirm that any folks listed at the same address, regardless of age, got a single invite for the house. It could have been 4 families living together–one invite.
Our invites were handmade because wedding invites are so stupidly expensive!
But that is neither here nor there. For the stocking–talk to whomever is in charge–now. Mid summer. If you say things like “Hey, I feel awkward bringing this up because I love that you guys show care for me and spend the time, but I’d really like to request a more age appropriate Christmas stocking, and if you’re open to it, I’d love to talk about what that means to me.” That, in my world, demonstrates that you are thankful for their effort, you are not making a demand, and you also aren’t saying “omg mom, I’m an ADULT now, geez!” 🙂
As someone who is still in my friend’s adult daughter’s life, it can be hard to transition someone into an older person in your mind, and agreed, the way to do that is through actual demonstration of adult behaviors. Getting to know the person in a different context. To ask about them, not just talk about you.
Good luck, LW!
Just FYI for the OP – standard wedding etiquette dictates everyone in a single household get a single invite. So unless this desire is something that is very clear to the cousin it is extremely unlikely that the cousin will send a separate invite. Many of my friends had to move back in with their parents after school and our families are all really close (such that we tend to want to invite both friends and parents) and some of us sent separate invites, others sent just one, and it was generally NBD.
Actually–having been a wedding-etiquette “expert” once (I wrote a column for a weddings mag), I can tell you that this is not true: “standard wedding etiquette dictates everyone in a single household get a single invite.”
It’s OK to send one group invite to children and parents, but most etiquette guides say that once a child gets to a certain age (they don’t agree on what age, but it ranges from 12 to 16), the kid should get his own invite.
And definitely once someone is over the age of majority (18, usually), they should get their own–per the etiquette guides. Even if the address is the same.
But it’s also true that many, many people just lump everyone together because it’s easier and less expensive.
However: Send out “Here’s my contact info” postcard or letters to everyone–include your mailing address (both at home and at college, if that applies), your email, and your cell. And say something like, “Now that I’m a grownup, I want to be sure you have my contact info. Please communicate directly with me instead of asking my parents to remember to tell me things or invite me places.” (And…get your own address book filled up as best you can, even if you ask on that same postcard for them to send you their contact info.)
Interesting! That does rather play into my feeling that I was slighted when, at 22 and with my own residence, I was included in my mother’s invitation to my cousin’s wedding. (Not that it matters; I just didn’t get them my own gift.)
Meanwhile, a former roommate of mine is getting married, and sent individual invitations to my housemate and me, which is darling.
I’m 33, have lived in a different state than my parents for the last 15 years (except for a brief point where I was living with my parents between jobs) and the majority of family wedding/Bar Mitzvah/etc invitations still include me on my parents’ invite. I think it’s partially because I’ve moved a ton and they don’t have a current address, but it drives me crazy. I really appreciate the few relatives who’ve made an address to text/email me asking for my mailing address to invite me specifically.
Like you, I do use it as an excuse to not purchase a separate gift (or occasionally not attend under the excuse I wasn’t invited). But it is very frustrating. My family isn’t overly traditional and doesn’t tend to marry young or anything, but I wonder if you don’t shift to being your own household in people’s minds until you are married and/or have children?
This may be a regional thing, but I suspect it’s very specific to the family dynamic. I received my own invitation for the last wedding I was invited to, even though I live with my parents and it was the wedding of a family friend who we have always interacted rather as a unit with (she was my babysitter as a wee person.)
I also got my own thank-you note for the shower which was hosted at our house, which I found a bit uncomfortable because my mother and aunt executed the entire thing with very little help from me. 😦
In my family it was just “the youngest people in the room” really. So when my sister of 18 years older than me had kids, I stopped being the baby of the family.
Yes, this. My cousins and I are still often at the “kids” table at family gatherings, even though we’re all well into our twenties (and some have even left them!). I don’t really mind so much, though, because I’d rather talk to them anyway.
That’s exactly how I feel. I’m in my late twenties and the oldest of the grandchildren on one side, and I’d way prefer sitting with my siblings and cousins. They teach me how to stay cool/relevant and added bonus, I get to avoid conversations with Drunk Racist Grandpa and Bossy Uncle!
I suspect I had a similar experience to the LW in that it can be a bit awkward if there’s a big age gap between the “kids” rather than it transitioning more smoothly from the kids’ table to the teens’ table to the young-adults’ table. There were definitely a few years where my sister and I were in high school while the rest of the cousins were in elementary school, and we didn’t exactly want to sit with the grownups, but we also didn’t feel like 8-year-olds were our appropriate peers either.
This year, on the second night of Passover, my stepdaughter was with her girlfriend, my sister was on a road trip, most of the extended family were with relatives on their respective other sides, so as the youngest person present at age 36, I read the Four Questions.
My grandparents always do a big Passover, but all the grandchildren have now moved too far away to come home for it, so my mom was tickled to go back to being the youngest and getting to ask the questions. Grampa even hid the Afikomen for her (but apparently did NOT give her a dollar for finding it)!
My father has five siblings that were born over a period of 20 years, and he’s the oldest. All six of the siblings are married with two kids each, so there are 12 of us cousins. Six of us are now in our 20s (I’m the oldest at 28), and the other six are under 16 (with the youngest being 6). Technically my 21 year old cousin is slightly closer in age to my 15 year old cousin than she is to me, but for many years, we had sort of a grownups/big kids/little kids table set up at holidays, and so I know she feels much more in common with me than she does with him. When she turned 18 or 19, the big kids/little kids split was done away with, and the former “big kids” joined the grownups en masse. I was 25 or 26 before I really became a grownup in my extended family. I honestly have no idea what triggered that change or whose idea it was, but it’s nice!
That being said, my youngest aunt is only 7 years older than I am, so she and I have been close for years—she and the next youngest sister treated me like an adult long before the rest of them did. So LW—maybe latch on to the youngest adult in the family, and see where that gets you?
One way was to spend money for space or autonomy at key moments like while traveling. My spouse’s parents started hosting their three sons & their families at a time-share situation in summers. The other two brothers have reproduced and were thus offered separate suites. We did not spawn offspring and were offered a connecting room to the parents. We said we would get our own hotel down the road to increase our privacy. We were quite happy to do so; just didn’t want to be sharing a bathroom with them while on vacation (unless of course we were in someone’s home with limited bathrooms). We didn’t make a scene or get huffy, just mentioned our plan to shift to a hotel for said privacy reasons. They changed the reservation and never tried to “share” with us again. I suppose the lesson is either procreate, or be willing to pay for some autonomy.
I think my family is a bit similar, albeit without a similarly aged group with kids to compare to. (My cousin, sister, and I span between 29 and 35; next youngest of the older cousins is 45 and next oldest of the younger cousins turned 18 today. We were just stuck smack in the middle, generationally.) When traveling, we definitely get the “Well, why don’t you two girls share an air mattress on the basement floor?” treatment. Which I am 100% sure would not happen if we were married or had kids. So for comfort more than grown up status we’ve started no thanks-ing that and springing for a nearby hotel. Relatives were surprised, but no one is actually unhappy with the arrangement – I think it just didn’t occur to them that we’re beyond the point where we want to sleep on a floor, or that we’d have the resources to do otherwise.
I’m 25. In my family, I received “kid” gifts from my aunt and uncle every Christmas. While I appreciated the gestures, I really didn’t like the gifts, and they were not at all age appropriate. A couple years ago, I sent them an email thanking them for being so thoughtful, and then telling them that I felt that I was “of the age” where they absolutely did not need to get me gifts for Christmas along with all the other kids. Something I did with my grandparents to get their gift-giving to be more age appropriate was starting to actually exchange gifts with them, i.e. I started giving them gifts of a similar price range to what I thought was reasonable for them to spend on me. It worked in my family, but YMMV.
Agreed. This is coming from a place of relative financial privilage, as I’ve had the good fortune to be employed and able to pay bills on my own since I was 18. But for me buying things for family members definitely helped them see me as an adult. In my family, kids get things and adults give things, so to be seen as an adult I had to consciously put myself in a giving-things roll. Can you call up Grandma or Favorite Cousin and take them out to eat somewhere relatively inexpensive? Or buy them something small but nice, like some flowers or something?
I like this. Part of my being grown up was when I stopped cashing the checks that my (retired farmers, little money, 26 grandchildren) grandparents sent me on my birthday and at Christmas and instead, started buying them gifts. I did not need their money – I did not want them to go without just so they could give me something!
My grandmother was of the “That’s too nice for me to use” group, so I started doing things like sending a check to her hairdresser to pay for her next do, or sending a gift card to the grocery store.
i am 25 and live with my dog, still every time i ask what i should get people for the big occasions i am told my parents will handle it. i feel really awkward about it. i’m the youngest too, my sister has a family and apparently they do the same thing with her? wth.
This is interesting…I have a feeling people might say this in my family too, but I think it would be more about “Hm, I don’t want to bother/burden you” more than anything else (we are very Midwestern!) What’s the response if you just go ahead and purchase an appropriate gift and send/give it to the person? That is, for a wedding, purchase something off the registry that’s within your budget. Or for holidays/birthdays/graduations, just get something you think the person would like/enjoy and/or that is reflective of your relationship to them, again within your budget. (I totally get being on a limited budget — sometimes for me “within my budget” just means a heartfelt hand-written card, and I have found people really appreciate that too!)
i actually asked my uncle and his fiance what to get them for their wedding, and they kind of shrugged. the people who tell me my parents will handle it are actually my parents. they act like it’s a matter of course, where i kind of think 25 is old enough to contribute to these things. (last time i went to a confirmation i just handed my mom some cash when she picked me up. i think she was a little offended, but i told her she could take me to dinner so.) i will definitely give the card some thought, thanks 🙂
It’s off putting for most to be asked what “you want” in terms of a gift on occasions when they are normally expected. Some people actually do that because they know the usual response is “oh nothing” or “you don’t have to” and that’s the answer they wanted to hear, and they’re off the hook.
Just get a gift and stop looking for your parents or sister to give their blessing. It’s not normally a group decision unless you’re chipping in together.
Stop asking what you should get people, and just go get them something,anything. (If you need advice, get it from someone outside the family. If all else fails, bring them artisan jams, or something.) Bring it on your own, wrap it up, think it out ahead of time. Ignore your parents; act as though they don’t exist where this matter is concerned.
this is a really good idea, except i don’t want my sister to feel weird. i could tell her ahead of time, i guess. according to my mom i tend to go too big though, and i don’t really know who else to ask thanks 🙂
Google “What to get for X” and pick something that seems appropriate. Let your sister know ahead of time that you’re going to be doing the gift buying thing and (possibly) see if she wants to chip in at all. Or not as the family dynamics suggest.
My older cousins seem to be treated like adults for being married (it’s that kind of family, you know, in which I receive consolatory head pats for having a Master’s degree but no fiance), yet are still included on the gift tags for gift exchanges along with their parents. It feels weird but we’re not a big enough family that there is any kind of established protocol, nor is it worth investigating to me.
haha, that seems really weirdly heteronormative to me. my sister is engaged and has two kids, one bio one step, and as far as i know is still included on our parents gift tags. the thing is i actually want to get people gifts, and i feel weird about telling them my mom is bringing the gift. anywho, i don’t think getting married will work for me. for one thing, there’s no evidence that would work for my family (like yours), and for another i really enjoy living with just my dog. 😛
(ps i think a master’s is much cooler than a fiance.)
Reaching out to your cousins in an adult manner to check in with them about their lives/experiences separately may help with that transition, especially if they know you want to connect with them more. In the usual gatherings of my extended family, we had a similar experience with “waves” of kids being born. I am the oldest of the cousins, with a sibling and 2 other cousins very close in age, then there was one cousin who was about 5 years younger than the “first wave”, and finally 3 cousins all grouped together about 5-7 years after that.
Until people in my age group started having kids, which made generational lines much clearer, I ended up taking an active lead in reaching out to the middle cousin especially as she grew up, and also in helping push recognition for the younger ones when they weren’t kids any more. But I didn’t do it until I knew they were interested (versus being considered “young enough” to not have to be involved in chores/payment/political conversations, etc.) Anyway, I think that helped shift the family dynamics a bit.
Twenty-one is right on the edge of adult for me; most of the people I know are still being paid for by their family, if only for college expenses. Most people I know live with their parents at twenty-one. So it might just be that you haven’t passed the most lenient Adult Barrier. I still don’t think of twenty-one-year-olds as adults.
But it is annoying. Common coming-of-ages include graduating from college, moving into one’s own place, stopping financial aid form parents, getting married, moving in with someone, having a kid, living abroad, getting a graduate degree, making a suitable wage (which is probably about twice what you think it is, given generational changes). Absent those, asking for an adult stocking or to help with the kid stockings is a good idea. Maybe it’s not so much lumping yourself in with the adults as differentiating yourself from the kids. But keep in mind, to the oldest of the definitely-kids, you are amazingly cool and mature.
I’m always pretty surprised when I realise an online friend is “only” 21 or so, but I still wouldn’t be giving them soft toys and colouring books. Though partly I think there’s a clearer delineation in New Zealand – almost everything important happens when you’re 18 (except for the age of consent for sex, which is 16) and any importance to 21 is purely traditional.
Yes, I am weirdly fixated on the plush animals and coloring books detail. LW didn’t LITERALLY get that until she was 18, right?
They said they did when they were 18 — and every year since! — so, presumably yes, alas.
Yes, he did. Even last year.
i actually was thinking that seemed pretty standard, right up until the stuffed animal and coloring books detail. honestly, if someone gave me a coloring book at this point i would make it fairly clear how weird that is. like, a looooong pause and then an “um. thanks?”
i honestly think that has crossed the line into infantilizing. no disrespect intended. (isn’t it weird how LWs are assumed female until proven otherwise?)
@kat: My girlfriend informs me coloring books for adults are a Thing now. I don’t get the sense that is what the LW’s relatives are giving him.
Yeah, that shows that the giver is weirdly out of touch. I mean, I understand that buying a large number of one thing for a group is convenient, but I think even the 12 and 14 year old cousins wouldn’t want coloring books anymore.
In my family it is actually normal to get some really silly things in stockings like yo-yos and novelty pencils and tiny toys, which we actually do have fun with, buuuuuut… everyone gets them, from my going-on-70 father to my over-25 little brother. If there was adult/kid divide in the stockings I’d think 16 or 18 would be the time to graduate to adult stockings.
I find it interesting that you targeted graduation from college and not graduation from school as a milestone for adulthood. May I guess it’s because you are in the US and parental assistance to attend college is (largely) expected?
As a Canadian, my family and people I know expect the student to pay their own way through college (either through loans or working) and I would always take a college/university student as an adult (unless they are under 18). But maybe that is a class thing too?
Sorry if I’m de-railing, I’m just finding thinking this through very interesting!
I should add my family is lower middle class, with a mix of kids attending university, trade schools (college), or not attending post-secondary at all, so that may color my perceptions. I have younger sibs who are single, living at home (working on the family farm), and have no children but I still recognize them as adults (despite my terrible habit of occasionally referring to them as “kiddo”, which is a verbal habit/nickname for all the youngest sibs that I’m finding it hard to break).
Yeah, as another Canadian, I would find the idea of a university student not being an adult really really strange, too. A young adult, sure, but an actual child? That just seems crazy to me. Some people I know had a lot of financial help from family, many had none, many had somewhere in the middle, but that was mostly considered private business between you and your family (like, if I’m doing well and I give my parents some money, that surely doesn’t affect their adulthood!).
Students are not allowed to apply for financial aid on their own until they are something like 23 years old unless they are married, in the military, are emancipated, are orphaned, or some other major life event. Until you are 23 you’re required to list your parent’s income on your financial aid forms.
I left home at 17 and lived completely on my own afterward and still had to contact my mother for her tax information for my financial aid. I actually pushed my wedding date up several years (married at 21) just to not have to do this any more.
With Obamacare, children can stay on their parents’ health insurance policies until they are something like 26.
(Caveat: I am now 40. Things may have changed since I last applied for financial aid at 35, but I doubt it. And I don’t have kids/am too old so the Obamacare age might be 25 – I wasn’t paying rapt attention to that part.)
As for expecting us to pay our own way through college … it’s to the point right now where that’s impossible. As a very poor person I got a free ride. I paid no tuition and I usually had enough to cover books. I still had to pay all my living expenses, which meant working full time year-round or taking out loans. Middle class people don’t qualify for financial aid (except loans) and their parents have to pay at least several thousands of dollars per semester (here in the Bay Area, California). Most 18-22 year old people don’t have the job skills or education to hold down a job that pays $8000+ a year on top of living expenses, so their parents have to pay.
Most of my friends with kids started their college funds when the kids were born. I think my mom is planning on mortgaging her home to pay for my youngest sibs’ college expenses. (I’ve 2 12-year-old siblings.)
With all of this, it’s unsurprising that the age of adulthood is being pushed into the 20s here in the US.
“Students are not allowed to apply for financial aid on their own until they are something like 23 years old unless they are married, in the military, are emancipated, are orphaned, or some other major life event. Until you are 23 you’re required to list your parent’s income on your financial aid forms.”
WHAT? In NZ we have this total bullshit where your parents income is taken into consideration until you’re 25 – but that’s for free money, you can still borrow [a pathetic amount of] living costs for uni. Same thing with emancipation but at least it’s *possible* to study without being forced to rely on your parents.
I hate this so very much, as if (a) parents can afford that, (b) there’s no legal requirement for them to support you so how can you write into a contract that their money counts and (c) I don’t know about the US but here we have to talk to someone to “prove” your parent was abusive, which I did but a friend was denied based on the counsellor’s personal opinion and so many people would not be able to handle that.
What wondering means is that in the US, students are considered “dependent” students unless they are 24 years old, married, a graduate student, a member of the armed forces, a veteran, someone with a legal dependent other than a spouse, an emancipated minor, or an orphan/ward of the court. There are some other exceptions like being homeless or at risk of homelessness.
If you are a dependent student, you must report your parents’ income on your financial aid application. Even if they have cut you off financially and you can prove it. If you’ve been cut off, you can plead special circumstances and try to get around it, but it’s a difficult process.
If you can’t get a “special circumstances” exemption and your parents won’t provide their financial information, the only financial aid you can get is an unsubsidized loan. These have higher interest rates than the subsidized loans, and the interest either must be paid while in school or it is added to the loan principal. The interest on subsidized loans is waived while you are in school. You are also ineligible for federal grants. Your student aid application is considered incomplete, which may affect your ability to get state grants and private need-based scholarships that rely on the information in the federal application.
Oh–and the “cost of attendance” budget is lower for dependent students than for independent students, which impacts how much you can borrow on federal loans and might push you into needing to borrow from private lenders, many of which are predatory lenders.
Oh wow, Courtenay, that is… interesting.
I was thinking the other day I probably wouldn’t have gone back to uni (I’m 30 and financially dependent on my partner, work 1/2 day a week) if I lived in the US. Our system is vaguely similar and our current government is cutting it back back back, but at present it’s still a lot more doable than it sounds like there.
Living costs is about $180, isn’t it? When I got it it was $150 and I could almost live just on that, though I also did one just-above-minimum-wage retail shift a week. Student allowance now is $209, and then the accommodation benefit is $40. FUCK the accommodation benefit. Literally everyone in the country who meets the income vs housing cost criteria is entitled to up to about $100 through the accommodation supplement… unless you’re a student. My very very final exam is on Wednesday and being able to get the full accommodation supplement is the only thing I’m looking forward to, everything else is terror and stress.
Having to prove abuse is also bullshit. Especially around emotional abuse which so many people normalise.
Another Canadian. Maybe it’s different by province? My parents were calculated into my student loans until I was 21. I wasn’t allowed a loan at all my second year because my summer job + parents were “too much” even though I had to work full time while being a full time student and still only had a $20/week food budget. “Too much” my ass.
It’s the same situation in New Zealand. To get a student allowance which only covers your costs if you’re very very very lucky, you have to have income under a certain threshold and be at least 24. If you’re younger, your parents’ income has to be under a certain threshold, though the threshold is different if you’re not living at home. It’s kind of ridiculous. I still regard university students as adults though.
(And yeah it’s ridiculously difficult to pay your way through college, but we do have a state-run student loan program which doesn’t generate interest while you’re still studying and then I think requires a 12% payment from each pay as long as you earn above a certain – below minimum wage – threshold. Until 1990 university cost less than $120 a year. Then it jumped to $1200. Then it kept going up all through the 90s. It’s slowed down a little now but still increases sometimes.)
What’s the typical living arrangement for a university student in Canada? In the U.S., the “traditional” college experience would be to live in a dorm during the school year, but move back in with your parents during the summers and possibly also over winter breaks; I think that probably contributes to college students being seen as still “kids” here.
Speaking only for the Eastern Ontario section (Canada’s really big!) the traditional student lives in a dorm or off-campus housing during the school year, then goes wherever the jobs are for the summer. For some, that means back with their parents, for some, that means staying in their school’s town, for some that means shipping out to Alberta or BC. Most people can only get 12 month leases so you’re paying for your housing over the summer anyways; failure to find a summer job generally means you will sublet your school housing and live with parents to save on food costs or live in the housing you’re paying for anyways and keep job hunting..
For me, I permanently lived in the city where I worked and went to university, in a regular apartment. Most of my university friends did as well, past the first year, though there were also plenty of older students in the dorm as well. For my siblings, they lived off campus and went where the jobs were in the summer. I’ll grant that I was in university 20 years ago, but none of my friends went to live with their parents in the summer. I’m not sure what the typical experience is, although I’m sure that if a student’s family was living in the same city as you went to school then they probably lived at home.
I’m currently in uni and in my area generally you only move home for the summer because it’s the smartest financial move or because you genuinely miss seeing them a lot and wish to spend the summer with them. (Nearly all of the West Coast kids go back, though they also have an advantage of nicer weather if they go home.) Most students from this uni town chose to move into res or off campus housing despite the costs because they just want their own space or their parents want them out of the house.
A lot of people do go home or to some kind of placement abroad in the summer these days. It’s really mixed. Some people consider themselves having moved to and started an adult life in their university city, others consider themselves to be ‘away at school’ and leave their university city during the summer.
Canada is big and spread out, with universities being located in the major cities. I went to school in Alberta, for reference.
People who already live in the city where they go to school may keep living with their parents (there’s no obligation to move into dorms), everyone else finds housing in the city. Many schools have on-campus housing, though they never accommodate ALL the students and usually priorities certain subgroups, say, first-years for one building, grad students for another, international students for yet another.
There’s also typically a low-cost rental market near any given campus where students share houses.
Moving back with your parents during summer is definitely a thing, and may be obligatory depending on the terms of a student lease.
Summer jobs/placements/courses can mean spending the summer in a third location.
Above and beyond the financial aid implications mentioned above, college students in the US are considered to live with their parents in government surveys, e.g., the Census.
I wonder if one possible explanation for the difference is the relative cost of college in the US and Canada. I’m a USian living in Canada and I’m blown away by how (relatively) cheap college tuition is here. While here it’s still (theoretically) possible to support yourself through college with a summer job and part-time work during the school year, those days are long past gone in the States. Unless you’re going to a really affordable school (e.g., community college, smaller state schools) and/or have a great scholarship/grant package.
Certainly the cost of education is insane in the US, no argument there. But I feel like there’s more going on here than that, like maybe it’s also more common in the US to place a really big importance on total financial and household independence and to link it more strongly with respect and independence and adulthood?
I have cousins in Eastern Europe whose parents bought them a house. And it didn’t seem to impact on their being considered adults. Other cousins who shared a home with their parents well into their thirties, while they had quite good professional jobs. One lived with parents for a while after she married.
And I and many of my friends, in Canada, did get some significant financial assistance from our families during university (though every person I know still had summer jobs as well). Or sometimes to help with down payment on a house… Farmers I went to school with worked with their parents and inherited the farm at some point. It just doesn’t feel like it has nearly as much of an implication of ‘this defines whether you’re an adult or not’. More than it seems to for my cousins, but not as much as it appears to to many americans.
The US seems like it’s at one extreme in how that’s interpreted, my European cousins quite a bit in a different direction, and we in Canada seem somewhere in the middle. Sometimes passing money around the family is just a combination of good financial sense, and family ties. Same with cohabiting
Yes, I think you’re right. I mean, the majority of my European friends actually lived with their parents THROUGHOUT university, and many continued to do so through their master’s, and yet! It doesn’t seem like they were treated like children during that time. I think France tends to get people through their bachelor’s degree a bit early comparatively (graduate high school at 17 and then a three-year degree), so one of my friends was only 21 when he started his master’s and had never lived on his own at that point. But. . . no one reacted to him like a child, even though I feel like in the U.S. he still would have been firmly in the kids’ camp.
Reference: I am from the U.S. Midwest, where GET THE HELL OUT AND BUY YOUR OWN HOUSE as a mentality is extremely strong.
I have very strong and biased opinions on this subject, given that I and a close Homefriend have returned to parental homes to save up money. I feel very irritated that being uncomfortable and always anxious about making ends meet is a U.S. cultural prerequisite for adulthood.
I think you’re right that the US is at an extreme with the “independence=worthiness” mentality—not that you phrased it exactly that way, but that’s something I’ve noticed. I think the idea is starting to get more backlash since the recession, but that also means that the vocal proponents are proponing even more vocally.
Although it’s important to note that you can typically claim residency where you attend school for voting purposes.
I think it is very much a class thing. Most working class kids I knew–even those who went to college–were considered adults and treated as such when they graduated high school, and parental assistance tended to be in the vein of ‘you can live here while you look for an apartment’ or ‘we’ll loan you X amount of money for tuition’. Most upper-middle class kids’ families seemed to treat the college years as a kind of extended adolescence, so that it wouldn’t be abnormal for a 21-year-old college senior to have his mom filling out his financial aid forms. I mean, this varies, obviously, but as a general trend it was noticeable.
it wouldn’t be abnormal for a
21-year-old college senior to
have his mom filling out his
financial aid forms.”
I mean, my parents filled out my financial aid forms throughout college because the first time, they sat me down and made me do it at 17. It took three times as long as if they had done it themselves because the majority of the stuff required was their income, their tax returns, and essentially their financial information–which they also felt very uncomfortable sharing with me! After that, I filled out the one page of my income, and let my dad fill out the rest because it was more efficient for him to do it, since he’d be dictating everything to me anyway.
Absolutely! Coming from a working class background myself and having received no financial assistance, the experiences of others my age who come from wealthier families is really surprising. They have more family resources to access, so they’re still reliant on them, and their families still treat them as children/teens. For the friends I know whose experiences were similar to mine, we’ve been treated more or less as adults since we were 17. Sometimes earlier. I think it has to do with what age you start having to take responsibility for your own well being, and if your parents don’t have the money or time (or, for some of us, desire) to provide for you, that ends up being pretty young. Not everybody finished high school, so whether or not you graduate, the time you leave high school and find a job is the time you’re considered an adult.
(It’s actually pretty frustrating when I meet the parents of my wealthier friends, having myself lived + worked independently for years, considering myself an Adult Person, and they treat me the same way they do their kids who haven’t tried to move out/are getting their tuition paid for them/don’t buy their own groceries, since we’re the same age.)
I have bean really weirded out before when I heard of parents researching universities or discussing the contents of their son or daughter’s university application, or asking for advice about applications. It was really strange and abnormal to me, for someone to let their parents be so involved in that… And that was going _into_ university.
Perception is reality for most people. When you still live at home, your parents float all your bills, you drive mom and dad’s car, and all your income is fun money you appear more like a kid and less like an adult. Don’t we all know that one person in their 30’s or 40’s that still lives with their parents. How much respect do you have for that person? Not much (unless mom and dad are in failing health or something). Someone like that just doesn’t appear to be a responsible adult.
LW says they’re “about to graduate” and “start life in the real world”. I’m betting that’s when the attitude of older relatives will change. When LW gets their own place, pays their own bills, works a “real” job, invites their significant other regularly to family events (like “real couples” do) then LW will appear more like a real adult and will probably be treated accordingly.
And I agree with every one else – please don’t be offended by a single wedding invite to the whole house. And if you’d like to bring a date, just ask. I routinely had to ask if a date was OK because the bride forgot to think about the “and guest”. Now I have to ask if bringing my kids is OK because they forget to add “and family”. More often than not, it’s just an oversight so ask!
Fixed that for you.
i, kat, think it would entirely depend on the particulars of the situation.
but yeah, if you want to bring a date, just ask if you can! your cousin is for sure totally swamped, so don’t expect them to pay too much attention to the details of your situation. and if you’re in an “asking is rude” family, just hint.
fwiw, traditionally, that wouldn’t be appropriate.
I know she means well and I understand what she’s saying, but comments like that are, if not outright triggering, then certainly very hurtful to me, as someone who’s severely disabled and not sure if I’m ever going to be able to live on my own. It’s taken me a long time to get to the point where reading that doesn’t make me break down in tears and hate myself.
One of my uncles lived with my grandparents the entire time I was growing up. Two of my siblings only left home when they bought a house; one still lives there. (The other rents from an unrelated landlord like me – he left home about a year before finishing his PhD.) I’ve never thought it didn’t make them responsible adults and no one else we know seems to either. Then again, we’ve all paid board after high school and our incomes have had to cover non-housing related bills eg mobile phones, transport, insurance, medical, and I rather think your assumption that people living at home necessarily aren’t paying their own bills is exactly that – an assumption.
Even if they are getting financial help, adults can help each other without ceasing to be adults.
Yeah, I actually just got sent some money from my sister to buy food, I think the same day as writing that comment. 😛 This was a just out of the blue thing but there’ve been other times where I’ve literally not had any money and was living on the remnants of bags of dried pasta too. The board situation with my parents has always been $X per week, or Y% of your income, whichever is lower, so if you don’t have any income you wouldn’t be paying board at all and I’m 100% sure my parents wouldn’t care – my mother sulked a little when I moved north in 2013 because she likes having us at home.
But, I’m very big on the idea of community and hate the worldview that says people are only worth their incomes and taxes, which unfortunately is what the government seems to think. Down with capitalism!
Not to mention all the people I know who don’t live with their parents and are entirely dependent on their parents’ money. Living arrangements don’t have a default financial arrangement attached.
Yeah, I pretty much assume I don’t know the particular of a situation until. . . I am told the particulars of a situation. Both of my closest cousins live in their own apartments, and all of their bills are paid entirely by their parents. One of my close friend’s older brother lived in his parents’ basement until age 25, but he was paying rent and had a high-paying job.
I live at home; I pay my insurance, gas, incidentals, and part of my phone bill. I don’t pay rent. That’s what I worked out with my parents. It pretty much doesn’t matter if other people think it’s “adult enough.”
I also think that the idea that the only reason people live with their parents is to abuse their financial generosity is a crap one. A big part of why Homefriend (mentioned in another comment) and I both live with our parents is that we are both single, kind of overworked and introverted, we get on well with our parents. We’re both way less lonely and emotionally strung out than when we were making it on our own during grad school, because we have immediate access to our support networks.
” How much respect do you have for that person? Not much (unless mom and dad are in failing health or something). ” I guess I see where you’re coming from, but this idea makes me uncomfortable. There are all kinds of reasons why families can choose to live multigenerationaly, or why one adult family member might help out another adult family member, that don’t involve the person being unworthy of respect, or not being a responsible adult.
Jill, your notion that someone is a “real adult” when they “get their own place, pay their own bills, work a ‘real’ job, invite their significant other regularly to family events (like ‘real couples’ do)” feels like it’s coming from an incredibly privileged and narrow-minded place.
You’re assuming it’s easy/possible for a fresh-out-of-college 20-something to just waltz into a “real” job (whatever the hell that means, you don’t specify but I’m guess you mean entry-level cubicle dweller), that said “real” job will pay them enough to afford their own place right out of the gate (to which I can only laugh – have you seen the entry-level salaries in, say NYC? and the rent rates? and done the math?), that they have or can easily acquire a family-approved SO so they can be a “real couple” (again, whatever the hell that means), and that their income as an entry-level cubicle dweller will not only cover their rent, but will also be enough so they can “pay their own bills.” Have you picked up a newspaper in the past five years? That’s just not reality at all for large swaths of the 20-something population in the present economy, and to make “real adulthood” contingent on external, mostly financial, factors that are partially or even largely beyond someone’s control just strikes me as really, really out of touch.
My sibling lived with my mom for 8 years post-college to be able to pay back hizzer student loans (since hizzer’s entry-level salary was enough to cover either the student loan debt OR rent in our insanely HCOL area, but not both), and it never occurred to me that Sibling wasn’t a “real adult” because of Sibling’s address – if anything, to me, Sibling made the mature choice by forgoing fun-times-in-an-apartment-with-other-young-people in favor of meeting Sibling’s debt obligations. So in the future, maybe consider that obtaining the middle-class-American version of financial success isn’t a prerequisite to becoming a mature adult?
Totally agree MellifluousDissent. Personally I really rankled at the “real couple” designation: I don’t want the cost and hassle of a wedding and do not want biological children (which to them are the only kind that “count”). In my family that means *any* significant other is not a “real” significant other because I’m not actively seeking a husband and father for my children. And I’m privileged enough to be cishet: if I wasn’t I wouldn’t even be permitted to talk about them, let alone invite them to things, as is the case for many, many queer folks.
PS: In my experience, an unmarried adult inviting a significant other to come along to things, especially holiday festivities, is frowned on in many families and the SO must be directly asked by the parents/Mat or Patriarch/Family Planner or it will cause clucking about how they’re being rebellious. Most of my friends have dealt/are dealing with a variation of this, to varying degrees of success. To bring this back to the main thread point, LW, what’s the culture surrounding SO’s in your family? Perhaps there’s a super secret person who gets to say which SO’s count as “significant” who you could petition so that your SO gets invited to things in future? In my family it’s my grandma. Or perhaps you’re allowed to invite anyone to anything and your family just needs to see more of your SO so they remember to invite them to major things. In that case, I second the Captain’s advice to play host a bit more.
I just want to chime in on the plus one thing on wedding invites — it’s cool that it’s been your experience that leaving off plus ones/kids has been an oversight, but I will just say that it has generally NOT been my experience. LW, I hope you won’t be offended if you don’t get a plus one — I know many, many friends of mine who limited plus ones to married couples for budgetary and/or venue space reasons. If you do decide to ask about it, I would do so very gingerly — it has the potential to get pretty awkward pretty quickly. And, I think the plus one question typically has little to do with age, and more to do with whatever “plus one” policy the couple has decided on for their wedding (which is then applied across age groups). Same with kids — although getting to see everyone’s cute kids was one of the highlights of my wedding, I know other people who explicitly wanted a child-free wedding, and that’s their right, seeing as they are the ones getting married. The ettiquete rule I was taught was that if a person’s name is not anywhere on the invitation, they are not invited and it’s rude to ask about it (since you don’t determine the guest list unless you’re the one getting married). If you simply must ask, try to do so by perhaps asking the mother of the bride or maid of honor instead of bugging the bride or groom.
I would tentatively agree. Every guest at my wedding cost us £100+ and we had limited capacity due to the venue and our finances. I see a “plus one” as a way to make sure nobody comes along without knowing someone else. If your family is there, it’s not unreasonable to seat you with them and expect you to be happy with their company. If youre an individual unlikely not to know anyone, then covering a plus one is a courtesy by the couple so you wont feel alone while attending.
Weddings are the one time when it really is about someone else and you have to kinda suck it up to some extent.
Im not unsympathetic to the OP; my family only stopped trearing me like a child cum imbecile when I got married in my 30s. But if someone cant afford to offer plus ones for partners theyve never met, and they know there will be relatives or friends that you know and can socialise with, then Im sorry but on that one occasion in their life, you go with it and act nicely.
Unlikely TO know anyone, I mean.
In general, if I know someone well enough to be invited to their wedding, I know them well enough to ask if I may bring my SO. I fully recognize that the answer may be no, and would accept that, but I simply don’t believe that a polite request for clarification is rude, whatever Emily Post or Miss Manners say.
For my own wedding, I was happy when people reached out about bringing someone, and we had a high enough decline rate that we were able to accomodate.
But In my social group, we tend to be pretty good about clarifying who is/isn’t included and asking when we aren’t sure.
I think this must be crossing the “Guess” vs “Ask” communication boundaries. I was utterly horrified when people reached out to me about bringing +1s to my wedding because it shifted stress back onto me during a time when I really didn’t need additional complications to my logistics. Shared etiquette, at it’s most basic level for me, is about providing shared rules so that a lot of the guesswork is eliminated. Wedding invitations have fairly clear rules: if your name isn’t on it, you aren’t invited. So to me, someone saying “Yeah, I know that you only said Jane and John, but can Sue come to” is basically saying “Yeah; I am prioritizing my fun over your logistics, plans and arrangements.” I would rather Jane and John just not come.
Which is, possibly, odd because in a casual party situation, I feel no problem saying “Hey; I see you didn’t invite Sue; is it okay if I bring her?”
Casual parties are not life events and don’t cost $100/plate.
I think that rather than asking “Hey, can I bring Girlfriend along?” in a specific way, I would say “Hey, I just wanted to check on your 1+ policy — are you trying to keep numbers down, or is it a more flexible thing?” Or something like that. But of course this depends enormously on my relationship with the couple getting married and how the invitation was worded, and stuff.
For reference, when my cousin got married earlier this year, I did actually ask that, because the invitation was ambiguous about it, and I got a “sure, bring her, the more the merrier!” kind of response. But I asked my mom to ask for me, so that it could be passed through more layers of indirectness and they wouldn’t have to say no to my face if they felt awkward about that, since in my family there’s a big tendency for the older generation to be in close contact and then pass family news along to their various kids.
Yeah, wedding boards are bursting with folks planning weddings who have been beset by friends/relatives either asking or assuming they can bring “extras”. It’s easily one of the most frequent “argh, how do I handle this sticky etiquette situation?” post you’ll see in pretty much any wedding-related community. I agree with sara that the invitation is for the person named on the invitation, and it’s rude to ask or assume you can bring a date or kids. (Which the LW isn’t, but some commenters are, and I wanted to be another voice that No Please Don’t Do That.)
It causes a lot of stress for the people planning the wedding—and they have enough to worry about, really.
One thing I’ve seen (on these same boards) is, if the couple knows your SO and their name, they may invite them along with you, but no generic “+1” or “and guests.”
Asking is way better than assuming though, especially if you can word it in a way that makes it clear you’re not expecting them to say yes and will be totally cool if it’s no. Obviously though their stress levels may well depend on the size of the invite list – if it’s very big then the number of people asking is going to be a big pile on.
But you probably can’t word it to avoid stress. It is stressful to ask.
This one really is simple, if your name is not on the invitation, and +1 is not on the invitation, you’re not invited.
The only plausible exception I can think of is if you just got married yourself and they didn’t invite your spouse because they didn’t know. I guess it might be fair to ask then.
Assuming Occams razor, the reason that a long-term partner isn’t invited probably means that the person doing the inviting (which may or may not be the person(s) getting married) didn’t know they existed. (Some families are closer/gossipier than others. Some people are more open about their dating lives than others). And I think it’s perfectly reasonable to want to attend a family wedding *with* your SO rather than on your own, particularly if your siblings’ and cousins’ SOs are invited, so asking does not feel rude to me at all. (To me, ‘plus one’ sounds like you might bring anyone; that _wouldn’t_ feel appropriate).
But depending on the venue/plans/people I’d also add ‘I’m happy to pay for [SO’s food]’ which would signal that yes, I’m an adult, I don’t expect a free ride, I understand that this will make extra work/costs for you.
On the other side, if the couple explicitly did not want my SO to be there, I’d probably be inclined to decline the invitation myself.
Seconding the “long-term partner isn’t invited probably means that the person doing the inviting didn’t know they existed” thing. I had a smallish wedding and I have a large family, and I had no idea that one of my cousins had A) moved out and B) had a significant other. She got upset b/c he didn’t get invited, but I LITERALLY DIDN’T KNOW HE EXISTED.
And as it was, my family invites alone were 60% of our wedding invites (because my family is fucking massive), so we weren’t handing out plus ones to family members *anyways* because there just wasn’t room.
I have no idea what some people are thinking. Last summer, my daughter and I got invited to a family wedding and I got invited to the shower beforehand, but my daughter didn’t get invited to the shower and my SO didn’t get invited to the wedding. So I didn’t go to the shower (I sent a present), and my SO didn’t go to the wedding (which he was fine with, but it felt awkward to me). I talked to some family members who said, oh, you should have just brought him anyway or oh, you should have asked, but it’s just been drummed into me that that’s not appropriate.
And this summer I’m going to have to deal with it again, because the other child in that family is getting married this summer. Sigh.
While in general I agree with the “only named people are invited” rule, I have encountered at least one situation where I went ahead and asked. I received a wedding invitation from a couple that we are friends with, that included our 10-year-old daughter but not our 6-year-old son by name on the invitation. I had a strong suspicion that this was due to using an old address book with contact information from before my son was born. So I reached out to the groom (the one I knew first), and asked if they had an age cutoff or if it was an oversight, assuring him that I would not want to bring my son if he wasn’t invited. And he told me that it was definitely an oversight, and that they would love to see my son at their wedding. It was fun for all the many kids who were invited, and I’m glad that I asked.
I’m 23, and I can’t take care of myself. I live with my parents, I don’t work, my parents pay all my bills. Hell, my dad still makes a lot of my appointments and phone calls. It’s going to be like that for at least a few more years. I’m kinda insulted by your claim that I am not a “real” adult because of that. People have pointed out that the criteria you’ve set for adulthood are not realistic for a lot of people for financial reasons, but I’d like to add that it’s also pretty ableist. I’m still an adult, and I still deserve to be respected AS an adult.
My uncle once declared that “you aren’t an adult until you have a child and a mortgage.” While I understand his underlying point about the weight of those responsibilities, I gave him an earful about all the children he’d personally sent into dangerous situations as an Army officer and that I, as a child, could represent him in court as a licensed attorney. Because I’m confrontational and don’t have time for ablism or classism.
I doff my hat to you.
You are officially the best.
As someone in the same age range who also can’t work and is entirely dependent on my parents, both financially and for other kinds of support, I just want to +1 this comment as incredibly true, and important to keep in mind in this discussion. Between economic factors and disability, people have a lot of reasons to be in a situation where they’re partially or entirely dependent on others, and you, as an outsider, aren’t in a position to know the reality of their circumstances (or to judge them on it). That’s between them and their family/guardian/other.
I’m not sure that I feel I’m fully an adult yet, but I’m certainly not a child. People that insist otherwise? Unhelpful, and often actively harmful. I live every day with the pressure and guilt of being dependent on my parents in a world that says that means I’m lazy, immature, and selfish. That’s not to mention the fear of what would happen if ever something were to happen to my parents, because I wouldn’t be able to support myself, and I wouldn’t be able to do much for them should they need support. Being dependent is not the fun, easy ride a lot of people seem to think it is. And people who deny my adulthood based on that are denying me what very little power I have to exercise over my own life as it is.
I feel you. ❤
Yeah, I immediately thought of myself because I’m living with my parents, but also several of my friends live with their parents for disability-related reasons. Why should they need to struggle to live on their own and be miserable and desperate when their parents’ help is right there? The amount of suffering you go through is not what makes you an adult.
Yeah there’s a reason I’m only just finishing university now, a couple months after turning 30. I spent years out of the workforce living at home on a sickness benefit. Some people will be dependent on carers until they die. I wouldn’t even necessarily say “you’re an adult when your brain finishes maturing” (though in some situations that should definitely be taken into account wrt service provision, the justice system, etc). You’re an adult when you reach the legal or traditional age of adulthood in your area.
Umm. Have you considered that maybe m it’s not an oversight? Maybe they don’t want kids at their wedding and you’re putting them in an awkward position by asking if they can come.
Yeah, I’ve seen far more people complaining about guests who want to bring extra people that weren’t invited to the expensive and stressful-to-plan event than I’ve seen been grateful that someone brought that kind of “oversight” to their attention.
Yeah, I had someone assume it was an oversight and throw a fit when we told them our venue was not kid friendly. If they’re not on the invite, they’re not invited. Period.
One thousand times this. As someone who has planned a lot of events, there is nothing I hate more than people who call me and ask if their children can tag along. If I know you well enough to invite you, I know you have kids. If they were not invited, it is not because there was an oversight; it is because they were not invited, period. Sometimes people want to enjoy an adults-only occasion so they can indulge in drinking and bawdy talk without worrying about being a bad influence on little Persephone. Sometimes people are trying to stick to a limit on budget or number of guests and eliminating children is the easiest way to do that. Sometimes people just don’t want kids there.
When you call and ask, you are putting the person hosting the event on the spot. This is rude. The person may decide to be gracious and tell you that by all means you should bring Osiris with you, but that doesn’t make the behavior any less rude.
Jill, I am sure you mean well by your comment. At the risk of sounding particularly harsh regarding your views on adulthood….
People aren’t “real” adults until they get a “real” job and a “real” partner and a “real” place to live? Fuck that noise.
The money you earn while living with parents is “fun” money? FUCK that. I started working when I was 14 years old and haven’t stopped since. Even when I was in high school living at home that money wasn’t “fun” money. That was my college fund, my bus fare (car? No, didn’t drive mom and dad’s, they need that shit to get to work), my money to buy books and food for myself and less fortunate friends. And you can bet I’m in a way better position financially than many people who live with older relatives. Many many of us help pay the rent, the utilities, the groceries, the gas. Many others are unable to for reasons beyond their control, which has NOTHING to do with how responsible or mature they are. This idea that young people who live with mom and dad only work to get pocket change contributes to the difficulty many of us have being taken seriously in the workplace and thus our chances to earn a decent living.
Get a “real” job and people will take you seriously? Which people? Because everyone and their brother has a different standard for what a “real” job is. Does it have to pay a certain amount? Be full time? Have benefits? Is it not a “real” job unless it offers opportunities for promotions? Do blue-collar jobs count as real? How about unskilled labor? How about labor that you think is unskilled but really isn’t? I’m sorry, but a “real” job is ANY job. If it is work, and someone does it, that is real.
Oh, and how about being a “real couple”? FUCK THAT. What even makes a partner *real?* I’m in a long-term, committed, but platonic relationship with another lady. It is the single most important relationship in my life, and we’re coming up on 8 years of living together. Oh, but we’re not “real” partners, because we’re “just” friends. Does it sting like a slap in the face every time we’re excluded from events or unable to accompany each other because people won’t recognize that partnership? You bet! And no matter how stable or important that relationship is, it will never be recognized by my family. I’m not alone in this… it’s sadly the norm for queer folks in many places.
Your comment hit a lot of buttons for me, so I’m sorry for being so forceful about this. But I and most of my peers have to deal with attitudes like this every day. It hurts. It stings. I am sick of shutting up and being quiet when people tell me that the people I respect most are whiny brats mooching off mom and dad.
“How about labor that you think is unskilled but really isn’t?”
Farm labor FTW.
That’s all I really have to say just now, though you make lots of other good points.
Yeah… I cringe whenever I hear the phrase “unskilled labor.” I’ve worked a lot of different jobs in a lot of different industries, and have yet to find one that doesn’t take some level of skill to do well. So usually “unskilled” really means “skills I think are worthless.”
Exactly. I think the other reason for the word, too, is that (because of… shall we call it the disrespectful gaze?) the people calling it unskilled can’t tell the difference, even when they’re looking, between doing it badly and doing it well.
There are jobs that take skill to do well; but there are also a jobs that anyone meeting basic requirements *can* do well after a short (hours to days) training period. I wish we had a better word for it than ‘unskilled’ but there’s a marked difference between those jobs and ones that need years of training and ongoing experience.
I’m saying this as someone who has worked a lot of jobs in a lot of industries, and while I’ve always taken pride in doing jobs well, and tried to *do* my best, there *isn’t* a direct comparison between working with animals, or editing, or teaching, and stuffing DVDs into boxes and taping them shut or stacking newspapers on palettes on the other side. And some professions have a sliding scale – I’ve been weeding ornamental beds, which took very little skill indeed (and there was no training needed for that job at all), and there are master gardeners who not only have great knowledge of plants and pests and microclimates but are creative artists in their own right.
When I copyedit an academic text in my field, there are other people who can do this work, but they’re likely to have a similar background of five to ten years training/experience, and you’re not likely to find a great concentration of them anywhere. When I was polybagging newspapers we got a different bunch of temporary workers most weekends, and after a days’ training about half of those could do a job that was almost as valuable to the company than me busting a gut to do it *really well*. Working the first type of job is, to me, much more satisfying.
On a personal level, it sucks to know you’re immensely replaceable, and that from a company standpoint your work is worth no more than that of a person who turns up, does the minimum, and slopes off before the end of the shift. Good employers know the difference and honour it. Bad ones don’t.
Well said, Baytree.
There is a reason why in many monastic communities in the Christian tradition, there’s a history of all members, no matter how educated, helping with all the work. As in, the prior may also wash linens sometimes.
The rule of St. Benedict emphasizes that all labor is worthy of being done with care and attention. And all laborers, and the work they do, are worthy of dignity. The motto “hora et labora” or, “prayer and work” equates the two. Prayer is labor, and labor is prayer, and those things are the center of community life.
My point isn’t that everyone should totally love monasticism and the Roman Catholic Church.
It’s just that there are many, many, many examples of how people value the dignity of labor in this world.
“Real” jobs and material goods people buy with “real” job money do not in any way determine if a person is a fully realized adult, or not. And amount of compensation, prestige, or societal value for work do not make a job any more or less worthy of the designation “real.”
Not only is the point you make important. It has a long and well respected history that Jill’s definitive-sounding comment obscures.
+1 to this because it needed to be said.
I’m 26, live at home, don’t have a job, don’t pay rent, don’t cook all of my own meals, have barely any savings, and am foregoing mental health treatment because I don’t want to be any more of a burden on my parents than I already am. You know what’s NOT gonna help me move my lazy ass out the door and get a “real” life? People like Jill telling me that I don’t deserve to be respected as an adult.
The only way I’m going to learn to adult is to do it, not just have my parents take care of all the things for me because I’m dependent on them in certain specific areas. Mom is not great at boundaries. It is hard. But we are practicing.
I’m also in this weird middle ground in the family where older cousins are in their late 30’s-mid 40’s with young children of their own, and younger cousin is a bratty teenager whom I basically can’t stand. I don’t understand babies, so specifically asking to look after the young ones as a favor to parents is out. There are certain of the cousins who I can small talk with, but the fact that the older generation feels more conversant in ForeignLanguage and everyone speaks it except me means that, if I do want to talk to cousins, I often have to pull them out of the conversation they’re already having in ForeignLanguage rather than joining in on the group conversation.
On the bright side, there is no “kid’s table,” no awkward gift-giving, and no anticipated weddings to attend in the near future.
I’m similarly situated, Jenesis. Just wanted to let you know that you’re not alone and offer Jedi Hugs.
Mom and Dad can be in failing health and that’s ok in your eyes, but what if the person living with their parents is in a bad place mentally and living at home so they can cope with it? Or they are in poor physical health but your average person doesn’t realise because it’s an invisible disability and/or they are good at coping with it and hiding it around outsiders? Sure, you’d SAY you wouldn’t judge a disabled person living with their parents, but you probably have a hidden meter of how disabled someone has to be before you stop judging ’em, huh Jill? Urg, I felt gross reading that. (I live with my parent at 25 and don’t care if Jill respects me or not.)
Oh btw, someone already said this but there are cultures where it’s not expected that children will immediately leave home upon becoming adults.
I don’t care what their living arrangements are, or what one’s opinion is of that living arrangement (which one should keep to ONE’S-SELF as it is only the business of the person who is living that way), it is NOT appropriate to get someone past the (age of wanting to use them) soft toys and coloring books for a present. That is deliberately and unnecessarily insulting and downright mean.
I would have to disagree. In our family nearly everyone gets dollar store trinkets in their stockings. We have over 30 people that celebrate Christmas together ranging in age from baby to late 80’s everyone will get and individual gift or 2 and everyone will get cheap goodies, including soft toys and coloring books.
I agree, Kristina M. Tell that to anyone who’s attended a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, where everyone scrambles to catch beads, of course, but also soft toys, coloring books, rubber duckies, kids games, etc. etc. Plenty of adults still have fun with that kind of stuff!
Considering how expensive weddings are, I consider an invitation to be directed at the individual(s) named on the invitation. At $65 per head for our own wedding, we did not add “and guest” for anyone. If someone was in a serious relationship, then we named that SO on the primary guest’s invitation. I specifically did not add the children of my first cousins, because adding the whole next generation of kids (few of whom I’d even met) would have doubled the number of family members and precluded us from inviting any of our friends. So my advice to the LW is to show the cousin some mercy and not make this wedding LW’s first stand as publicly proclaiming adulthood and demanding all associate “rights” as such.
My great-uncle lived with his shitty, abusive father up until the day the old man died. Then he continued living with (and, now, supporting) his mother, until she died. Eventually he passed away himself. No failing healths (until they got REALLY old) – just a different culture – in case, the kind of immigrant culture that says “BUT FAAAAMILY” all the time.
I know his father didn’t like him, but I’m pretty sure he considered him to be an adult as soon as he turned 18.
Then should I understand that I, as an adult who doesn’t drive, isn’t in a relationship, lives in the same house as their parents and shares their bank account and expenses with them am irresponsible and not worthy of respect as a human being?
What about people who can’t leave their parents houses because of health issues? Or personal reasons? Or simply because they work OK as they are and simply don’t feel the need to go yet (because the house is big, because they don’t have a couple, because they all work at the same family business and it’s easier that way, etc.)? There’s so many variables, we could be here all day.
If I were in your shoes, I would give a thorough revision to that way of thinking. It’s ableist, for a thing, and classist, and disrespectful of people who choose to not follow certain social conventions for whatever reason. As the Captain said, that’s the way you think, not the way everybody does.
I don’t know, I work in a professional job and two of the women I work with–one of whom is married, one of whom has a Master’s, both of whom are well over 40–live with their parents. I have plenty of respect for them. I don’t really respect people who are taking advantage of their parents’ generosity/inability to say no, but if everyone involved is okay with the situation, I think people should figure out their living situation in whatever way works for them. My brother lived with my parents rent-free well into his twenties, even when he had a decent job, but nobody had a problem treating him like an adult.
That ‘one person in their 30s or 40s who still lives with their parents’ is me.
I left home at 18 to go to Uni. I’d had a sheltered upbringing and living with fellow students was rather enlightening for a shy, introverted girl such as myself. After Uni I bought a house with my (then-) partner. In my late 20s we broke up. He kept the house. I worked abroad for a few years and found the world to be bigger and stranger and more wonderful than I ever dreamed.
Now, in my early 30s, I’ve come back to my home country, where I am training/studying for a career change. It’s hard work and I am filled with gratitude every day that my parents have been kind enough to let me move back in with them for now. It is so amazing to find a refuge with those who truly love and support you, and I feel for those who aren’t as lucky. Yes, to you I no doubt look like a ‘loser’ without maturity. A ‘spinster’, unemployed, little in the way of savings. In many cultures, for most of history, my situation would be seen as quite normal. People who love each other helping each other out. But in our society your only worth is economic and any ‘hiccup’, any deviation from the ‘expected path’ of career/marriage, marks you out as unworthy, infant-like, barely ‘real’. We need to leave this attitude behind and view each other more humanely!
LW, I feel you. While my circumstances are not the same as yours, I have my mother’s side of the family treat me as an adult (for the most part!) and my father’s siblings and their relatives treating me like I’m still a kid. It does have something to do with the fact that my dad’s sisters lived next door and downstairs then and now, and they often tell me how much they miss cuter, smaller me who always smiled. Despite not having a job, one insists on giving me money (I have an above-minimum wage job) and refuses to listen when I tell her I don’t want the money. They’re the clingy sort, so I’ve figured that doing ‘adult’ things I might once have done with them (like going to the market or the comic book store) by myself helps to set that boundary. Doing my best to make sure they respect my explicitly stated boundaries is also important to me–after all, I’m not a kid and it’s not their place to say whatever they want or go into my room without permission. But, I do try to do things with them, making sure the guides are set out beforehand (‘we’re not going to stay all day’, ‘I can leave whenever I want’, etc)
I think organising events yourself is a really significant symbol, if you’re in a position to do so – I have this on the brain because I recently received an invitation to a relative’s birthday party from his mother – he’s eighteen, but that puts him firmly still in the kids’ camp in my head.
That’s all very nice but the question is: How do you keep your infantilising parents from doing that? I mean, when I got my master’s degree, I stated very specifically out loud that I didn’t want to send out any announcement cards. Guess what. My parents made a bunch (hideous ones, by the way) and sent them to all relatives three times removed. In my name. Behind my back. Just like that. I got replies from people whose names I didn’t know (and one such person even showed up on the ceremony).
And I’m still fighting a “don’t sign me on your New Year cards” battle. “Why on earth do you want to stop us from making New Year cards? What business of yours is it anyway?” Well, apparently “make all cards you want but in YOUR OWN names only” is too complex a concept.
That’s a different problem to the LW’s, and I’m sorry that you’re having it, that must completely suck! I don’t have any easy answers for you. All I can think of in terms of practical action is to go ahead and do the things they are going to do on your behalf and then be, like, parents, it’s weird that you’ve also done that in my name. But that’s only going to work in some situations.
These may have been tacks you’ve already used with no success, but just in case there’s one you haven’t thought of:
1) When you do [infantilising] for me I feel like [insert feelings here]
2) I don’t need you to understand WHY [infantilising thing] upsets me, I just need you to understand that it DOES upset me, and if you keep doing it you are hurting your child. Do you want to keep hurting me? [hopefully they say no.] Then you need to stop doing the thing.
3) I want you to trust me to communicate with relatives/friends in my own way, and when you sign cards in my name it feels like you’re talking for me.
4) When you sign my name underneath yours it frames me as your child rather than as an individual, and I would like you to respect that as well as being your child I also have my own identity.
You know your parents infinitely better than I do, so you’ll know if any of these might work and which will cause so much friction that they’re not worth the hassle. Much sympathy though, you must be properly frustrated!!!
I can’t shake off the feeling that your suggestions would make a great solution if the problem didn’t exist. Telling them how their action makes me feel is a popular advice and I tried using it, but really, I should have known better. With my parents, that doesn’t lead to them reconsidering their actions, but to a long scolding off about how I mustn’t feel that way but have to feel in the approved way instead. They have a long, long history of prescribing my feelings and views. So obviously, that happened yet again. And of course they’re talking for me – I can’t be trusted to express the “right” things (because I’m completely opposed to them, duh) so they have to sacrifice themselves and do that against me. And it’s far from just a matter of hurt feelings. They’re creating actions of mine I haven’t committed and in fact have just right before stated I completely disapprove of. If I’m not their puppet, they skip me and project a spectre.
Ok, well in that case I’m sorry but I’m out of suggestions.
Oh hey, my parents do the same things! I’ve never gotten my mother to apologize to me for anything, ever. I’ve given up on that ever happening, to be honest, and I don’t even try.
Admittedly, my parents are less willing/wanting to claim me as their kid to the world at large since I’ve come out as queer and trans, which feels mostly weird. Because on one hand, it’s a lot easier to be seen as my own entity now! And be treated as an adult by family and family friends! On the other hand, the reason my parents have stopped trying to claim me as theirs is because they don’t really approve and they care way more about the rest of their family than me, which is a sucky feeling.
Anyway, Jedi fist bump of solidarity for parents who don’t see you as a separate entity, let alone an adult one.
Do your parents do email? Can you document things in writing as in “Please do not send out New Year’s Cards with my name attached this year; I’d really like to .” It won’t stop them, and will likely cause a stressful fight, but at least then you have something to wave in their face when they completely ignore your wishes.
That’s a sucky situation. Good luck.
Well, yes, they do. I did exactly that a couple of years ago – sent them an email, carefully timed in December, to remind them I want them to make their cards in their own names only. Thought they finally got it. Nope, the next year they signed me on them again. Tried to justify it with arguments such as “your sister consented to be signed there and you’d be sad if her name was there and yours weren’t” (actually, the opposite is true; whatever my sister agrees to is her business but I, me, a person, fiercely object to anything signed with my name being given to people I’ve never even heard of, such as my parents’ colleagues, which they would know if they bothered to ask or to remember what I’d told them numerous times before or look again at that email where I wrote it in detail).
I don’t do New Year cards. I really dislike getting them, why would I send them? Let me own my being opposed to cards. (This is also part of the reasons behind why I don’t want them to sign me there.)
fwiw, this is for SURE frustrating (and the announcement cards, yikes!). If it helps, though: most people would not assume that you “endorsed” the card or that it reflects on you, or anything like that, or even that you have knowledge of its existence, even if your name was technically “signed” on it, because I think nearly everyone would assume that only one family-member cares about the New Year card and writes and sends and signs it with all the offsprings’ name on it.
I agree, the more you treat *yourself* like a separate-entity-adult, the more your family will start treating you the same. It will probably be a transitional thing (it’ll happen… but it definitely won’t happen as quickly as you’d like) but I am exactly in your position – I am the oldest of ALL of the grandchildren in my family and there was a serious gap in ages after me (hello, surprise baby). From the adult side, I think there’s a bit of “I don’t really want to admit the kids have grown up” in this – my parents still treat me like a child even though I have my own children, mortgage, professional career… (ask me about the arguments that start about who gets to host holidays, and who has to drag themselves across the country to visit).
ALSO: I really, really wish I could go back to the “kids table” sometimes and not get lumped in with my nutso parents/aunts/uncles (see #705 Uncle Pundit) – I’m 45. They’re just deeply… unpleasant. The kids are way cooler to hang out with. Trust me. 🙂
Good luck! It takes patience navigating your own path with family.
Maybe you could talk to some of the older “kids” and see if one of them really wants to sit at the growup table, and ask them if they want to switch. (And maybe extend this to work out a deal with some of the “cool” grownups (if there are any) and swap a bunch of kids for a bunch of the adults who you want to spend time with – maybe they would like it, too!)
Anyway, one possible way might be to discuss it with the younger ones, because they just faced the same problem a few years ago. Your cousin getting married might be much more willing to accept a 21 yo as an adult than the next older generation. Why not approach her nicely and ask to please not be sat at the kids table? She might take the hint and send you your own invitation too.
My shrink told me once that I might have to live with the fact that my parents will never see me as an adult. It is more important, she said, that I accept myself as the adult I am and not care. But I totally get why that’s not a satisfying solution. 🙂 And don’t I know it… I’m 46 and my mother still treats me like a child and calls me “the child”. I countered by calling her by her first name now instead of “mom”. She hates it. so I guess that’s my ritual of being an adult.
Good luck anyway. I hope it works out.
I will just say as a point of comparison that my husband and I are in our 30s, live on our own in a city thousands of miles from our respective families, both work full time and support ourselves, and STILL receive kid stockings at Christmas (from both sets of parents). So, some of this stuff is not so much that people don’t recognize you to be an adult (I’m not sure how much more “adult” we could get other than having kids ourselves?), but just that families sometimes love their traditions and this is a way they show love for you. I personally LOVE getting the stockings, but if you don’t I think it’s fine to gently let the person organizing stockings know your preferences (and perhaps offering to help put together goodies for the “real” kiddos?)
Beyond that, I guess I would think about why these particular examples (stockings + wedding invites) bug you so much. At least on the surface, they don’t seem that offensive? Like, I don’t know, getting a random stuffed animal in a stocking is something one could laugh off and use as a way to play with/bond with cute younger kids. And the wedding invite thing is pretty normal regardless of “adult” status (at our wedding, it was one invite per address, even if that was, say, mother and daughter ages 90 and 60, and while we were able to afford +1s for everyone, for many people this is a big budgeting sticking point that has zero to do with how adult you are and everything to do with the cost of their caterer or the size of their venue). It seems like the larger issue is probably not these smaller symbolic things but rather larger ways that you feel sidelined or not taken seriously by family members (or where you’re feeling insecure yourself). So I guess I would say it might help to let the small stuff go when you can (which is, after all, the mature thing to do), and instead work on trying to built adult relationships with your relatives — so, being the one to help organize things, making sure to bring gifts/send cards/bake cupcakes on your own rather than tagging on to whatever your parents are doing, start having serious conversations with your parents about wills and other long-term planning (I was in my early 20s when my parents switched over the executor of their will from being my aunt to being me), form independent relationships with people separate from your parents, etc. etc. I do think it will help once you move out and are supporting yourself financially — both in terms of how relatives view you, and how you view yourself.
Maybe this won’t ring true for you at all, but I feel like the last couple of years at college was also when some of this stuff started to grate on me (I remember one famous incident when my aunt freaked out about me staying overnight at her house alone! At age 20!) — and in part, it grated on me because I wasn’t fully confident in my “adultness” myself — while my age said I was an adult, I had never really lived indepdently before or held down more than a summer job, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence about how I would make it out in the adult world after graduation. I think a lot of these “I don’t want to be treated like a kid!” things faded away in importance after I got out there and got that experience — both in terms of how people treated me, and in terms of the importance I placed on any lingering things that did (and do) come up. Plus, once you’re indepedent, it just…matters less. Like, my mom could ask me how much a new top cost (trying to micromanage my budget), but I can just laugh it off and say “I’m doing fine, Mom,” because I AM doing fine, and even if I weren’t, it’s none of her business, and it’s just no longer something I feel defensive about. So, I would both work on building those adult relationships where you can, and also just have patience that this will resolve itself pretty naturally in the next couple of years after you graduate, move out, etc.
Sometimes it all has to do with table size. I’m not kidding! The only way to get to the adult table is for a grandparent to die.
What we have done is this: Every time a kid is about to graduate/a Senior in HS/college, s/he is promoted to the adult table for the year. On other years we do it by lottery. Or, if there is room (because someone can’t be there this year) the oldest kid and next oldest, etc. joins us. Don’t worry. One day your time will come! Believe it or not, one day they will all be gone and you will wish someone still doted on you enough to give you a stocking. Even with coloring books!!
I was going to say this too, about the actual literal kid tables!
But of course the metaphorical ones are more complex, especially with problematic relatives who don’t accept that time makes you bolder, that children get older, and that they’re getting older too. 😉
That’s really neat!
Oh LW, I feel you! I was the oldest child by several years on both parents’ sides in a couple of huge families. Everyone had to be trained to think age specific instead of generationally. I would be 19 (or 20, or 21, etc), living on my own for a year (or more!), and they’d still say things like “all the adults together for a picture!…not you, wondering”, and “now all the kids together for a picture! ….That includes you, wondering”.
They’re much better at it now, with my younger siblings who have recently graduated to adult, but now they’ve had practise.
Speaking for myself twenty years later, I’m the adult forgetting that someone has grown up. I have siblings easily young enough to be my own children (and with whom I’ve never shared a home) and boy is it hard to remember that they are really 21 and 25 now and not kids anymore. I don’t have the “inappropriate gift” problem, but the more often I see them, the easier it is to not call them “kiddo” or refer to them as “good kids”. So, I guess my advice is the same as the Captain’s: the more you see them/do activities with them/act independently of parental units the easier it is for them to keep the fact that you are an adult at the front of their heads instead of falling into old patterns of interaction.
It just… happened in my family. I mean, I guess it was sort of stretched out, but on the opposite end- starting around 17 when I got my first job/car, and I’m fairly certain I was mostly an adult in my family’s eyes by the time I hit 19 (I’m now 28). For me, The Adultening looked like this: older-fashioned family expectations combined with being pretty poor and my own tendency toward headstrong independence did most of the work, and then my own independence and ambition, followed by financial mishaps did the rest. I don’t think I’d recommend anyone else try it that way though- it sucked and I’m still picking up the pieces.
LW, has also been my experience in my extended family, where a kids/adult table division happens for reasons of space… and the space issues don’t actually change even as everyone ages. Please tell me someone has pointed LW to the perfectly on point SNL skit on the topic. (can’t find a link rn, but transcript: http://snltranscripts.jt.org/79/79ejudy.phtml )
PS: alas, our family has only solved the issue over the past few years as basically ALL of the “kids” became adults and a 3rd generation of kids entered. We did finally move to a more open seating plan with multiple mixed tables. For my own part, I preemptively solved the issue talking to my mother ahead of time about seating and, in other circumstances, by just seating myself with the adults. On the other hand, in my experience, the “generational” stuff (like groupings for pictures, etc) doesn’t ever go away.
When Thanksgiving was still held at my great aunt’s house, the “kid’s table” was a picnic table in the car port because space was so limited. (This was SW Louisiana, so the weather was fine–jackets but no gloves/scarves/hats required.) Since the kid’s table being outside precluded any real supervision, only kids mature enough to (mostly) behave themselves were sent out there. Littles had to stay inside with their parents. Being sent to the kid’s table for the first time was actually a promotion!
In my family, your Sign of Adulthood is having your own kitchen (not a dorm kitchen). I became an adult at 20 when I moved into a house with two other roommates and had my honest-to-God own kitchen that I paid rent on and cleaned and stuff. I think the idea is that now you are cooking for yourself and you can host things?
My family has a weirdly formal system of this, at least for gift-giving. Little kids get presents from everyone in the family at Chanukah, but when they reach bar/bat mitzvah age, the name goes off the list of kids and instead of tons of presents they’re allowed to take part in the adult gift grab bag (which is exactly what it sounds like). Most of us didn’t, as teenagers, since it’s a lot of scented candles and napkin sets and whatever (and most of us still got presents from the family members we were closest to, but it was less of an extended-family-wide thing).
But I was also in the midst of a drought of kids in the family – there’s my closest cousin (28), me (31), and my sister (35). Next closest to my cousin is *her* little sister, who turns 18 today; next closest to my sister is a different cousin who’s in his late 40s. So basically as soon as there were other kids at all, we declared ourselves old enough to not want to sit with babies at the baby table. (Calling it that was a sign of how mature we were, truly.)
All that said, I think reaching out to your family on your own is not just a good way to get established as an adult, but good for your family relationships period. Not to get all sad about it, but when my mother passed away, I realized how very little connection I have to most of my family. It’s partially the age thing, and a lot of it was geographical growing up – we’d see the family once, maaaaybe twice at most each year – but we never talked on the phone with family members, etc. Mom was the funnel for all that (so now, for example, I’m finding out things like “Oh, Cousin S had open-heart surgery four months ago, but she’s recovered nicely!”), so I’ve got a lot of relationships to re-navigate. (Or navigate for the first time, really.)
For some strange reason, the minimum age to sit at the “adult” table in my family goes up by one every year.
I understand the LW’s frustration, though — when you’re old enough to do Legal Adult Things, like drive and vote and such, it’s frustrating to still be treated like a child. There’s no magic resolution for this, because the people who are treating you still as a kid still see you as one, and have likely seen you from diapers to driving. When you’ve spent years of someone’s life convincing them not to put things in their mouths/up their noses, you tend to stay in that mindset for a long time. Also, when you’re used to being in a teacher type of role, it’s harder to shift perspectives to that of someone who is more of an equal.
Believe it or not, time will help, to some extent, as will distance. CA’s suggestions are bang on, especially developing relationships with people outside of family-stuff-with-parents — my cousin and I are about 15 years apart, but we’re very much in an independent-of-our-parents relationship because we were doing volunteer work together with kids for years.
My extended family started treating me as an adult as soon as I moved out on my own (also, they were trying to make sure I was like, eating), which I appreciated tremendously.
I’ve come back and lived with my parents here and there through my life (bad breakup, my dad’s health issues preventing him from working the farm, fled an abusive relationship) and they treat me like an adult… mostly. They try! Really hard. But they still remind me not to put stuff up my nose sometimes.
So yeah, LW, it sucks, but it will change, it’s just a time thing and a doing-stuff-apart-from-parents thing.
This has probably already been covered, but I think it’s worth mentioning that you don’t need to pay taxes or be in a romantic relationship to be an adult.
What happened in my family was at some point my cousins and I started hosting our own events and inviting each other over for things independently of larger family gatherings. Part of this kind of depends on having somewhere you can host people, but most of it is just showing up for one another and forging new traditions, which can be achieved in any number of small ways. Basically just seconding the Captain’s advice 🙂
Nothing to add to the great advice you’ve already received. But I do have an observation: You will likely eventually reach an age where you will want to return to the kids table.
It’s generational for us–my cousins and I range from our teens to our 30s and we still sit at the “kids’ table”!
Otherwise, I think the shift really happened when we started having real adult relationships without our grandparents, without our parents around. My grandma started really treating me like a grownup when I started buying my own plane tickets to go visit her on my own every year. My other set of grandparents starting treating my twin sister like a grownup when she moved closer to them and started visiting them on her own–I still haven’t done that, so it still hasn’t quite shifted for me!
I like all the advice here, LW, so I just came here to commisserate with two stories about not being accepted as an adult by extended family.
I did not get married until I was well into my 30s. In a certain segment of my relatives, not being married meant “not yet an adult.” So, even though I was 27 and had supported myself living away from my parents for 10 years, that side of the family still expected my mom to handle letting me know about weddings, etc. They didn’t even bother to put my name on the invitations. That didn’t change until one cousin’s second wedding, which I refused to go because I had not received an invitation. Suddenly, that side of the family was able to learn my address and start sending me invitations.
The other one is similar — my cousins had been begging me to come to Thanksgiving with the family for a few years, but I tended to do TG with friends, Christmas with family. After my husband and I got engaged, I decided that it would be nice to forego the Friendsgiving that year in favor of introducing him to the extended family. I showed up, 32 years old, and discovered that my fiance and I were seated at the kids’ table, the next eldest of whom was the ripe old age of six. I was told “we just didn’t have room at the big table!” but somehow she had room for the married 21 and 18 yo, and their partners.
To this day she doesn’t understand why I was offended. My knees didn’t even fit under the table.
So, some people are just not going to get it, no matter what.
Are you my long-lost twin? I didn’t get promoted to the adult table until I got married – at 38. Until then, I got to sit with the kids while my half-sister who was 18 and married got to sit at the adult table. I had a decent enough time talking to the teenagers about college options (I was a professor at a University) but it really made it clear just how much my life choices were devalued. On the other hand, the “adult” ladies were always happy to have me help clean up afterwards!
And then they wonder why my husband and I avoid going back to my hometown as much as possible…
It is striking how much repro-normative and hetero-normative choices are valued & intellectual ones are devalued. How is early marriage an adult choice & graduate study not? This whole thread makes me (a professor who married late and never reproduced) stabby.
It’s like people can’t conceptualize of the difference between grade school and A PHD.
This is exactly that part of the family’s approach! They also don’t read books for fun, ever.
Last thanksgiving, I was seated in the living room next to the five year old – and I’m forty-two. I put my foot down HARD on that one and it was changed, but I suspect I’ll be a ‘kid’ until I die at this rate. And yes, being unmarried and unimportant certainly doesn’t help in my family.
In short, I agree that some people are never going to get it.
I decided when I was about 28 that I needed to move FAR away from the whole huge extended family. Because I was still little in their eyes, and treated that way. So I moved across country. That one act solved SO many issues with those lovely, well meaning, but not listening very well people. Perhaps my approach would be too drastic for most people, but it worked for me. It was part of the Defining My Own Damn Self, Thank You So Much portion of my life.
Good luck in your efforts.
….I s it bad that I’m almost 23 and now this letter has me thinking what an AWESOME GIFT a pillow pet (they have dragons!) and one of those anti-stress all-age coloring books would be?
I hear rumors of a Game of Thrones coloring book coming out, that would make an EXCELLENT stocking stuffer! However it sounds unlikely that LW is getting anything close to this kind of cool stuff 😦 I am imagining teddy bears and Dora the Explorer coloring books.
Yeah… poor LW. Given that the bulk of their complaint is that they’re family doesn’t seem to know them, I get the feeling you’re right.
This kinda makes me feel better that in the absence of a stated gift request, my family defaults to cash. I already get teased for liking “kiddie” stuff by my parents, I’d rather not attempt to explain to them the intricacies of Magic, Pokemon, and My Little Pony merchandise around gift-giving time.
The grandparents’ one-size-fits-all gift-giving just smacks of laziness to me. I’d find it very odd if a ten-year-old and a thirteen-year-old were receiving the exact same gifts, much less the LW and a 6-7 year old.
Yeah, giving grownup coloring books or things like that seems like it would be such a nice way for the grandparents to keep the nostalgia of kids’ toys while still giving the LW something a bit more age appropriate.
Nah. All my comments on it have been exclusive of the option where you know it will be appreciated – while being an adult I’ve had all sorts of novelty “children’s” gifts that have often prompted a doubtful “are you sure?” from the shopping partner. Once my dad came home from a grocery shop with a box of crayons for me. I think I was about 23. People would also randomly buy me anything giraffe while I was collecting them (dropped the hobby when I moved) and now I’d quite like to start collecting the soft toys that look relatively realistic. (Though not life size, because they’re really freaking expensive and the ones you find online usually won’t ship to New Zealand.)
I was pretty low income all through my 20s and soooo happy to be treated as a child for purposes of family weddings, holidays, etc. (ie, I did not have to bring gifts of my own). In retrospect, this was pretty selfish of me (it’s not like that these things happened so often, nor that I was SO low-income, that I could not have sprung for more stuff). But at the time I was not clawing my way out of the “just a kid” box at all. So I think the advice here is great — make it happen on your end as much as you can, by sort of “adulting”, because people don’t know if you want to move on up or stay down, so to speak, and both are real possibilities. And as has already been said, weddings are maybe not the place to launch the first “attack” just because they can cost a bomb for the hosts.
LW, who do you interact with at big family functions? I ask this because my older cousins have been instrumental in transitioning me into adulthood in my family’s eyes. Spending “adult time” with the approved-adult-status members of my family, and all the things that came with that (helping out at events by cooking, cleaning up, running helpful errands; being outgoing; getting to know various family members; generally having opportunities to show myself as a participating, responsible member of the family). It’s kind of about deciding what relationship you (want to) have with the rest of your family, and establishing that. Being an adult in your family’s eyes might have a lot to do with the kind of relationship you have with individual adult family members.
The youngest kid in my nuclear family is 33. We still leave a letter for Santa on Christmas Eve, and Santa still writes back.
However, when I was in my 20’s my parents were surprised to find that elves began supplementing stocking stuffers with additional gifties. Like, the year everyone was sorted into their Hogwarts House by being left a house scarf. Small bottles of sampler whiskeys have featured, too.
And! Suddenly, when one of the parents were given a big gift, the kind people might club together to buy, it was signed “From: Upholster, Lazyboy, and Kickback Elves.” Ir, you know, Mikimoto, Tiffany, and Cartier. Or whatever appropriate elf at the North Pole is in charge of that kind of gift. Burgoine, Bordeaux, and Rhone. Like that. Very odd, that.
You will probably never host The Big Annual Family Get Together until half your parents’ generation dies. But you can interrupt the dynamic and re-set it in little ways, sometimes even fun ones. Host an Arbor Day BBQ for some relatives. Even if you live at parent-home, you can send invites and do the host-activities.
Give your grandparents their own stockings from the oldest folks in the kids generation. Or maybe you can ask to stash a mini bottle of prosecco (or other age appropriate thing) in the stocking of everyone over the age of 21 and a LEGO mini-set in everyone’s.
It’s funny how fast the Elf-Supplemented Gifting has become tradition in our family, and with it, a sense of being “in” on the fun adult parts of the holidays for the (42, 39, 34 & 33 yo) kids.
I’m 34, and still at the proverbial kids table. I think if I were to have my own kids, and there were another generation to be “kids” I’d probably lose that status, but so far neither I nor any of my cohorts have procreated, and so I think we will be thought of as the kids until our hair is gray and the older generations have passed on.
This doesn’t particularly bother me, but then again, we don’t have a Christmas stocking coloring book tradition!
In my family of origin, you start getting treated like an adult gradually during your teens – it doesn’t happen overnight, but by the time you’re 18 or so, you’ll be included in all the adult conversation, served wine with dinner, and so forth. My own daughter is 16 at the moment, and while I don’t regard her as a full adult yet, I don’t think of her as a child either (and I definitely wouldn’t give her coloring books for Christmas, unless she asked for them).
In contrast, in the family I married into, you don’t really become fully adult until the oldest generation dies off. When I came along, I was in my early 20s and “my” generation consisted of a group of probably 25 cousins who were all around the same age. We’re all in our 40s or close to it now, and we’re adults, but not adults in the same way as the parents of those cousins are. We’re just sort of there in the middle, forming our own cohort in between the “real” adults and the generation of actual kids behind us. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a much bigger family than my family of origin (although each generation is shrinking – the oldest had sibling groups of 5-6, the middle 2-3, and the youngest generation is mostly made up of only children) or because they’re from a non-Western culture and things are different, but it’s very interesting to observe.
I’m 30 and sometimes still have to sit at the kids table (depending on how many relatives show up to the holiday. Because though my cousin and I are the same age (technically I’m older by 3 months but neither here nor there really) she always gets to default to the adults table with her offspring (and now that she’s had another both of them which will definitely kick me to my own table) because she’s married and has children. Which now that I think about it is kind of fucked since my brother is younger but he gets default adult table…….Then again despite asking numerous times my extended family still doesn’t get why it’s not ok to tease me and make fun of me.
So sorry you are experiencing this behavior. It sounds troubling (and Freudian) to me. Your cousin has children (phallus via birth) and your brother just has phallus, so they are auto-adults. Inappropriate on so many counts. If I were you, I might chose to holiday with people other than your family until the teasing and infantilizing end. Do you have friends with whom you might celebrate or can you invite key people to your own home in lieu of attending family events?
I only go see my family once a year and only at the request of my grandma who I actually like. It’s her kids and their families that I can’t stand. But because my grandma is getting older and we’re not sure how long she’s going to live, I see her for her favourite holiday only. And I get shit for liking reading and not liking or understanding football (I tried to understand it for 10 years) and the subtle snarky comments about being unmarried and un partnered and not having kids and shit. So I tend to ignore them the best I can and play as nice as I can without offending anyone.
I’m sorry your family treats you that way. I was lucky in that I was able to just cut off the rude side of the family without losing much (ha, my mom followed suit 10 years later).
I hope you get to spend a lot of nice time with your gramma and minimize the time spent with your shitty relatives.
I’m here to tell you, I was the read-a-lot kid in the family (so was Mom), too, and I’d rather have spent time reading than dealing with being teased. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for you to choose to read when you aren’t chilling with your gramma. Especially if the alternative is snarky commentary.
Thanks. Once my grandma dies I’m cutting off my dad’s side of the family just like I’ve cut off my mum’s side of the family. Both sides are toxic in their own ways. I have a few people on both sides I’ll talk to but that’s because they’ve tried to help mediate and they’re not toxic. They understand my interests and try to engage with me on them (of course it also helps that we share interests). For instance I only talk to my uncle and his kids on my mum’s side of the family. Because he’s always understood my love of books and we have conversations about books. And though he’s religious he respects the fact I want nothing to do with religion. We don’t talk about it. And that’s a huge reason why I don’t talk to the rest of my mum’s side of the family. Hyper religious Christians who have been shoving their religion down my throat since birth. My dad’s side has calmed down with the hyper religious Roman Catholicism luckily. So I don’t get that any more. That took them about 25 years to fully stop. And because I live with my parents, they’ve forbidden me to drive my own car down there because they know for holidays my brother and I will stay for about 10 maybe 20 minutes (depending on how long food takes) and then leave. Neither of us likes being around the extended family.
So, my family doesn’t have literal adults/kids tables, but it did take me quite awhile to make it to the figurative adults table, and I think in my case, part of the problem is that my transition to adulthood was quite a bit different from that of all of my older cousins’. They all stuck close to home and the few who’d actually moved out for college (but still lived nearby) moved back in afterward, contributing to their parents’ households as they could and not moving out again until marriage. That was the expected thing.
I, on the other hand, went to a college 500 miles away and absolutely refused to move back in with my parents afterward for [reasons], staying in the city I went to college in. So I was actually living on my own at an earlier point in my life than any of my older cousins had. And I’d been doing that for two years when one of my cousins “invited” me to her wedding by tacking me on to my parents’ invitation. Which went to a house that I had never actually lived in, because my parents had moved by then. Needless to say, I found this infuriating. And didn’t go to her wedding.
So when the next cousin to get engaged asked I would attend his wedding, I told him point blank that I would only go if he sent my invitation to my actual home. Which offended some of our other relatives but got the gears turning for others. They’d honestly never considered the idea that my parents’ home was not mine because… I dunno. I think everyone assumed I was going through a delayed rebellious phase and would do the expected thing and move back eventually, so they all basically treated me like a teenager until they realized that I was, in fact, already adulting, I was just doing it differently than everyone else did.
I think the oldest folks in my parents’ generation still don’t quite see me as an adult (because I’m still unmarried and childless *gasp*), but at least they’re nowhere near as blatant about it as they used to be, and I think I’m just going to let that lie. The younger folks in my parents’ generation and all the folks in mine DO see me as an adult, so that’s enough of a win for me.
Re: +1 invitations – you may not get one even if you do get recognized as an adult. One cousin didn’t give me a +1 even after acknowledging my adulthood, because they already had a very large guest list due to the size of his and the bride’s families, no one who wasn’t already engaged or married got to bring their SO, and my relationship with my SO wasn’t serious enough yet for me to be granted an exception. Whereas at the next two cousins’ weddings, my SO was actually invited by name, because we’d since moved in together and were clearly committed to each other by then.
Yeah some people will give everyone a +1 because they don’t want people to be bored at their wedding. Other people don’t want someone they’ve never met at their wedding or are on a budget so they invite only married +1s. It’s annoying if you’re single or newly dating but I would try not to sweat this one
“I think in my case, part of the problem is that my transition to adulthood was quite a bit different from that of all of my older cousins’. ”
Same deal here. I graduated high school early and moved out immediately, and now I live far away and with a totally different set of values than my WASPy fam, so I think they still see me as a precocious teen. And also, I had the audacity to marry another woman! In a campground! While WEARING PANTS! Such a rebellious phase.
My experience has been pretty in line with what the captain suggests. When it comes to sitting at the literal kids table at family events, or things like the stocking thing where there is an official Kid Group and Adult Group, it worked for me to say to my parents or to the organizers depending on my relationship with them that I would rather do the adult thing instead. Some people legit think you’ll find the adults table boring.
For less official interactions, if you don’t have an Official Signifier like marriage, kids, house ownership etc (I’m coming from the perspective of having none of these) I find you can do other things the captain suggests to flip how people treat you. When you are invited for a meal somewhere, bring a thing, even if you are attending with your parents. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, it could be a bottle of wine or other bought food thing that fits your budget, or something you made. Try having the goal of never going emptyhanded or piggybacking on what your parents brought. Try cultivating your own relationships with your family members. I’m shy, so facebook has been great for me in this case. I occasionally fb chat with some of my great aunts and uncles, and I see and sometimes comment on their statuses as a way of saying I the individual am interested in their lives. If you can afford it, consider sending greeting cards for a holiday or new year too.
I agree that you may have to let the wedding thing go a bit, esp if you currently live with your parents, but maybe you could focus on giving your own card and gift that’s signed from you and your partner.
With my maternal family, it was fairly easy to transition from “child” to “adult” because I’m one of the oldest grandchildren and I’m close to the two oldest of my mom’s younger sisters (my mom is the oldest). When I was 20 or so, the grandkids transitioned from “aunts and uncles buy the niblings gifts” to “the grandkids have their own gift exchange like the adults do.” When I was in high school I started buying my grandparents and great-aunt Christmas gifts and birthday cards. Basically, I just took it upon myself to start treating the adults as if I were one of them, and they took it in stride.
With my paternal family, I’m the second-youngest grandchild, and my aunts and uncles started treating me like an adult on their own. When I started sending separate Christmas cards from my parents, I got separate cards from the family that sent them.
Now, my situation is a little different, because I haven’t lived in my parents’ home since I started college, and setting up my own household and holiday traditions went a long way in my early and mid twenties toward establishing the kind of adult relationships I wanted to have with my family.
My parents were also substantially younger than their siblings and/or had children later, so I was in the same boat as you – slightly closer to the age of my cousins’ children than most of my cousins themselves. My sister and I rarely see the extended families anymore so the “kids’ table” isn’t an issue. But you can tell who they consider to be an adult by who they send things like holiday cards, wedding invites, funeral notices, and graduation announcements to. And I don’t have good news for you: I’m in my early 40s, haven’t lived in my parents house since (briefly) in the summer of 1995, and I still am not treated as a full adult!
In my family it seems the qualification for “full adult” status is being married and/or having kids and/or owning your own home. My younger sister lives in the same city as our mother but she owns her own home, and she’s received cards and invites for years now. Whereas I’ve lived a more vagabond life as a traveling biologist, grad student, and now postdoc. When I got married a few years ago I began to have more equal communication with extended family members, but that dropped away again after the divorce. Facebook also brought me into direct communication with some extended family for a while, until The Great Facebook Unfriending by Republican family members after Obama’s reelection. I’ve tried reaching out and sending holiday cards myself, and during the last 10-15 years I’ve had the same address for years at a time so they should have my address (plus, you know, they could always call or email me or my mother to confirm!), but no dice. So if your extended family is small-“c” conservative like mine, you might have a while to wait. Then again, the fact that my mother prides herself on being the matriarch / One Through Whom All Information Flows and I’m the family black sheep factors in there too, so YMMV!
In my family, we have (a) two cohorts of cousins, mine (all of us are over 30 now, and three of us have kids-under-five) and the “younger generation” who are in their teens and early twenties; and (b) a dead relative of the “previous generation” (my dad) who died when the oldest of us were in our early twenties.
I’m fairly certain that my dad dying didn’t have anything to do with anyone shifting from the “kids’ table” to the “adults’ table” BUT it happened at a time when that transition would have been happening anyway, and may have provided a bit of a jump-start to the whole “new era in everyone’s lives” thing.
That said, in my family, stuff like stockings has been pretty “age appropriate” from the get-go, and the “kids’ table” rapidly became the “cousins’ table”, back when the youngest of us was a year old and I was 21 and a good three years older than my (adopted) infant counsin’s birth mom.
LW: You mentioned stockings. That’s one play where you can “adult up”, I suspect. If you start contributing to what goes into the stockings of the little kids, you’re actively putting yourself in the adult camp. (And making sure the other people in the Adult Camp actually get stuff in their stockings – taht was something we sorted out for my mom pretty early on).
As far as what the Captain said: Yes. Becoming an “adult” in the eyes of your older relatives is all about developing peer-to-peer relationships with them. Some of that is inviting them to Your Place (if you have one) for events. If you’re up to it, that can even include things like offering to host a group event. Not Christmas. That’s too huge, and clearly Grandma’s Domain. But maybe you could host an open house on New Year’s Day or something similar.
The thing that the Captain said about picking up the cheque sometimes? That’s also a big deal. I don’t know how things about money work in your family, but if you’re in North America, you’re probably part of a culture where “Real Job” (whatever that means) is a marker of adulthood, and being able to pay for other people’s stuff is (sometimes eroniously) included under the signs that someone has a Real Job and is, therefore, an adult.
Anyway. Good luck.
Sometimes it just never happens. Or rather, it hasn’t happened for me yet. My parents are both the youngest-by-a-lot sibling and waited for a while to have kids, so I’m in a similar situation. I’m 23, have been living on my own since I was 16, relocated across the country, graduated from trade school and got married. My extended family still piggybacks me on wedding invites, sits me with the great-grand kids and buys me crazy socks for Christmas while cousins get wine. I’ve kind of made my peace with it – I get a lot of leeway to be the weird, fun cousin and nobody is suprised or offended when I call out my racist uncles at dinner, because KIDS, you know? Its a bit patronising, but I figure its better than growing up and having their expectations placed on me.
Sorry I don’t have more concrete advice, OP, just a bit of solidarity.
When you open a wildly inappropriate gift whether in a stocking or other circumstance, something for someone much younger or just inappropriate in some other way, smile, look at the gift giver, and say “oh, how darling– I know just the little girl who will love this. Thank you. Now I have something to surprise Youngster with. It’s been years since I enjoyed coloring books, but it’s such good memories and such fun to see the expressions on the little ones’ faces.” This works for all manner of gifts. “Lovely! I know I’d never fit into this, but it’s going to make someone at the Community Theater Costume Department very happy. Thank-you. It’s wonderful” (When I told a friend that I loved seeing what she’d been browsing through and that it was easy for me to drop off her presents back to the used clothing store she got them from if they didn’t suit me, the ridiculous gifts stopped coming.)
My younger cousin’s wedding was a few weeks ago, and we are quite close between my mother’s generation and mine. We had dinner as an extended family, and the first ones there were a few members of the “kid” generation (spanning from 36 to 16, with one baby between us), and we made it it clear that we recognize the “grown ups” and the “kids,” but that doesn’t stop us for organizing and managing shit when the grown ups are too scattered.
I put a stamp on my generalized adultness when I forcibly took over cooking Christmas dinner.
Sometimes it’s just habit–it takes most people a while to update their image of someone. (remember the “My how you’ve grown” thing?)
And sometimes you may find things like this more effective if your own parents can chime in. I know when my DH and I got married, we had a bit of a struggle getting people to send mail to us at OUR house, and to not just tell his mom when and where to show up for family holidays.
She got on board pretty quickly, and started flat-out refusing to pass the message. If someone said, “Tell Son and DIL…” she’d say, “tell them yourself, here’s their phone number. They don’t live her.” If they got mail for DH, or (worse! but it happened) for me and DH, she’d call the person and say, “You sent their mail here. You need to send it to them at their house. They don’t live here.” If she got any pushback, she’d say, “They’re grownups now. You should treat them like grownups.”
Feel free to speak up about those sorts of things directly. Heck, I think you could put up on Facebook something like: Attention, all family members! In honor of my 21st B’day, I’m asking everyone to enter me in their address books as my own person, and to contact me directly for all family invitations, etc. Feel free to declare it.
And then yes, love Capt. Awkward’s advice to proactively being communicating with the adults as a grownup.
(I will say–we didn’t send Christmas cards, etc., but I think that doing so would speed that along. So try it out. If your family doesn’t do Christmas, send a Happy New Year card from -you- individually.)
I wonder if you might be able to talk to your cousins (in a casual fashion) about when they graduated to the grown-up table, as well. I was one of the oldest grandkids (and for many family gatherings the only two older than me were with the other side of their families, so I WAS the oldest present!) and there were a lot of barriers for me to break. (The first time I reached for a glass of wine at the adult table after I turned 21 I swear there was a collective hush from everyone except my parents. It was super awkward for me, but when my siblings turned 21 nobody batted an eye when they reached for an adult beverage like an adult!). We also LITERALLY had a grown up table and a little kid table at extended family gatherings, so moving from one table to another was largely based on the availability of space (if a lot of my aunts and uncles showed up, I’d be bumped down to the kid table. If not many of them showed up, there was room for me with the grown-ups). In terms of holiday gift giving, about the time that the oldest grandkids started graduating from high school there was a collective push from the aunts and uncles to move our tradition from being about specific gifts for people, and into a white elephant gift exchange (though my grandma usually still gifts personal gifts to the little kids who wouldn’t enjoy such a thing). For one thing it’s cheaper (it’s a large extended family, so buying gifts for EVERYONE was just getting more expensive as each year went by and new people or babies were welcomed into the family) but it’s also become a fun new tradition since most everyone is old enough to not be upset about not getting a ton of presents from their relatives who don’t know them all that well. If something like that might be a tradition that they would consider, that would eliminate the whole adult versus kid stocking entirely! And if that isn’t an option (if they really love their stocking tradition) then I’d talk to my parents about it 😉
In my (US) family, being recognised as an adult meant when you graduated from college, regardless of what you did next. But your place at the kids table had nothing to do with that recognition. That changed with what had to have felt like painful slowness was for the eldest of my generation but pretty quick for us young ones- when the last ‘kid’ had graduated from college (at which point the eldest had been married and divorced already), the ‘adults’ suddenly mixed up the tables so both had a generational mixture. And everyone hated it and the very next holiday wewent back to the traditional tables. We have now added a little kids table, but honestly I think the tables will stay as they are until the older generation starts to die.
I’m the odd one out in terms of age in my family… Younger than one generation by 6 years, but older than the next by about 10 years. But I always got sat at the kiddie table for any family function. The invitation thing was nothing compared to how just ugh this was. Even as a 12 year old, it sucks being stuck basically babysitting a bunch of toddlers. I was told (and subsequently massively looked forward to) that I would be allowed to sit at the adult table when I was an adult. I now realise this was just to make me be quiet, and that my status of being slightly-younger than all the other people was an excuse to use me as babysitting for all the uncles and aunts so they could enjoy themselves for longer. I’d be stuck at that table for hours–I couldn’t exactly leave a 3 year old unattended, or worse, in the hands of a poorly-behaved 5 year old, even to go look for his parents (which might take ages). I’d sit there and watch the kids until their parents eventually decided it was time to go home, and would come and collect their children. The entire function (3-4 hours, maybe) would be spent sitting at the kiddie table looking after small kids. The adults were all at the adult table, nearby but not close enough to quite have a conversation with anyone at it, enjoying themselves while I sat all by my lonesome self.
When I turned 18, I thought, “Great! Finally family functions won’t be super boring! I’ll be able to have a conversation (talking with even the most astute 8 year old has its limits) with someone, and actually enjoy myself!” I was super hyped. To my surprise, at the next New Year’s lunch, the place cards my parents had set out indicated me at the kids table again. I pointed out that I was an adult, and would like to sit at the adult table (and finally enjoy one of these never-ending things). The response was a confused, “But there physically isn’t any room at the adult table for you! Just because you’re 18 doesn’t mean more space magically appears!” Apparently being an adult wasn’t the only requirement, now–there was another one that no-one had thought to mention until right that moment, which meant I was still stuck babysitting. If an adult failed to turn up, there was a similar excuse ready as to why, despite there now being space, I couldn’t enjoy myself. And so on. It became apparent that the reasons that were given were smokescreens, and they really just wanted someone to keep the kids out of their hair so the adults could all enjoy themselves (except me, of course).
This hurt a lot. I had spend goodness-knows how many hours looking after my younger cousins, feeding them baby food, having no-one to talk to (adults never visit the kids table, you know), and often missing out on various dishes that were served (e.g. baked prawns–everyone loves these, so they were deemed “not a kids food” and weren’t passed to the kids table so the adults could all get more). I realise that to them, the whole, “When you’re 18” was just something to keep me quiet for the moment, but to me, it was a big deal. It was like being promised a new car when you turn 16 and then find out that they were only saying that to placate you. It really mattered.
You can’t argue or really discuss things with people who will do what they want and then justify it with whatever excuse they can think up later on. They’ll never give the real reason and just keep finding excuses, or else shut the conversation down somehow. I mean, I tried, but it was pointless and they outright refused to talk about it seriously. So, for the next year (I moved out when I was 19), I would either arrange to have some appointment or prior engagement during these things, or, for big ones (New Years Day, major religious holidays, etc.) when shops, clinics, cinemas, etc. were closed, I’d accept any invitations from friends to eat with their families. If I wasn’t going to be allowed to enjoy myself, then I sure wasn’t giving them free babysitting. The excuses stopped coming then. “But you can’t eat with [friend]’s family! Who will watch the children for us?” They’d call the friend in question’s family and try to cancel on my behalf–I had to warn them in advance about these things… I tried to pass it off as a weird prank my family would play, because it’s super awkward to expose others to how awful your family is. Of course, now I don’t feel awkward about it, since I realise that the awkwardness is on them entirely, not me. But ugh.
The Captain’s advice is perfect. But, if your family doesn’t have any decent people in it, and refuse to even discuss the issue properly, then my advice is–if you aren’t treated like an adult, go some place where you will be. If they invite a child (or +1) with your name, that’s not you, is it? So you might as well go enjoy yourself for the day elsewhere. If they ask why, just say you didn’t realise you were invited, since everyone else got an invitation except you. The, “But we added a +1 to your parents’ invite!” can be responded to with, maybe, “Well, yes, but you invited [relative in similar situation to myself] separately, so I had to assume the +1 was only there out of politeness. Sorry I misinterpreted.” I don’t know, maybe this is passive-aggressive? But it might be good if your family is just plain unreasonable and you have to pretend to be polite to people who don’t care much about you in order to prevent them from treating you worse…
wow, what an awful story. I’m so sorry.
Wow. That’s a really lousy situation. I’m so sorry that happened to you
They’d call the friend in question’s family and try to cancel on my behalf …
They’d what now?
Up until then you were describing run-of-the-mill shitty behavior. That goes above and beyond what even most ill-intentioned people would consider okay.
Definitely have to agree with others who say that being in a relationship, owning your own house etc. are not definitive markers of adulthood. I still live at home with my parents at 29, I’m not in a relationship and not actively looking to be in one, have no kids, but I have a good job and could afford to leave if I wanted or needed to. I have a great, close relationship with my parents though and living together is mutually beneficial, both socially and financially, for all of us. I have friends from India to whom this is absolutely no big deal because living with family and WANTING to live with family is an accepted thing in many Asian cultures. It’s only in my native culture that I occasionally get a raised eyebrow at my situation, but I’ve learned to deal with it.
We’re actually moving house soon and I’ll be taking on the mortgage and owning the property, but we’ll still be living together. Moving out to live alone just so I can make some superficial claim to adulthood is not something on my life goals list. Personally I prefer being able to take care of my parents this way while they’re happy for me to still be there, and supporting them now as they get older is my way of giving back what they’ve done for me.
Express adulthood in the way that is comfortable for you. And in my experience, although I do have a freaking huge family, invitations are usually a per-household thing, so I wouldn’t be inclined to take that too personally or as a marker of independence.
What a lovely comment, hamvalentine! I’m 24 and my family will soon be moving flats, not houses, where I’ll be the main tenant, but other than that, our situations sound very much the same and you’ve said exactly and very beautifully what I’ve thought while reading the comments here, so I’m just gonna piggypack on that and, I dunno, stick a gold sticker on your comment or something?
Yay, a gold sticker! ❤ Also, awesome to know I'm not alone in being an adult living with parental family by choice. If you get along well with them and it works out for everyone involved, it's nothing to be ashamed of.
That’s what I’m thinking and an opinion I don’t see very often in discussions like these (not on CA, mind you, where people, barring some rogue commenters, are always very open and friendly) – the living with family by choice and not because of a more “accepted” reason such as illness on either part even in Western society thing, I mean. I think it stems from a line of thinking like the one Jill above exhibits, where people hear you live with your family and immediately imagine that as you living just like you did when you were a small child, which is… well, not true. My financial and “other” contributions to the household are very different from what they were like when I was little, it’s much more like a flatmates kind of situation where I share duties of all kinds with my mum and younger sister. I get along very well with both of them and it’s just really the smart choice in our situation (although, should either of us decide they want to live alone, it wouldn’t be a problem at all, there are no hard feelings or dependency of that sort to be found here!).
Yeah, I think the assumption tends to be that if you’re still living with your parents/family then you’re still dependent on them and not pulling your weight, which doesn’t have to be true. I do my fair share in terms of effort and monetary contributions, so like you, it’s more of a joint tenancy situation than being ‘kept’ or looked after by the other tenants.
This rings very true! Not for me personally (I wanted to move out ASAP, not because I have a bad family situation, but because I just wanted my own place!) but my husband had a similar situation with his family for a number of years. After he graduated high school, he stayed at home. He worked, and because of his hours (which skewed early) he became the family cook for his two younger siblings and his parents. He made dinner every night for his family, and helped to keep the house in order, and paid rent to his parents to help with the mortgage, etc. There’s no situation in which that’s not being an adult!
For my mother it was probably when I became a mother, but that is certainly not functional. I hope I always treat my kids in age-appropriate ways but there are many famous last words in parenting of course. The best way I can get a handle on my kids’ perceptions of things is to listen to them so I’d advise the LW to talk directly to the people involved.
My mother has three brothers and a sister, so between all of them and my grandma there are six houses we rotate between for Christmas. Part of our family tradition is that the adults get a small thank-you gift (usually an ornament for the tree) that they give to the hosts of the Christmas party. So in my family, you are considered ‘an adult’ when you start giving the thank-you gift.
None of me or my cousins are old enough to have a house yet (I have an apartment, and so does my one cousin who is older than me, but both are too small for hosting such a large family for Christmas), but I imagine the next step into adultliness will be offering to have the Christmas party at our place.
I have to say, LW, that it’s important to recognize that a lot of markers of ‘adulthood’ are very arbitrary and dependent on class, culture, economic situation, ableism etc. Speaking as a DD, autistic adult who almost certainly will never get a job good enough to move out/live on my own right out of college, probably will never have kids or get married (and certainly will not get straight-married), and who has no plans to suddenly hate everything associated with childhood, I can say confidently that I *am* an adult, just not the one that most people picture when they say ‘adult’.
(There’s also a thing where people are really cruel to DD adults and force/pressure/coerce them to not like anything ‘childish’, up to and including throwing away their stuffed animals, books, DVDs, clothes and so on.)
My advice is this: act as if it’s assumed that you are an adult with extended family. With the ones you don’t know well, get to know them as an adult–emails, meeting up for coffee (and you paying for yours), conversations about politics or interior decorating or international economics or whatever your family considers ‘adult topics’. Participate in whatever adult-marker rituals you can. With the ones you HAVE gotten to know really well, trying seeing if you can change the dynamic a bit, or signal an end to the adult-child dynamic. The only way to convince people that you are responsible is to show yourself taking responsibility for some things.
Not to mention that in certain periods in history and social classes, adulthoood = financial independence from others would have disqualified quite a lot of women from being considered adults. And indeed, did do so.
I’ve been thinking about this question and how adulthood works in my extended family. My cousins and I (I’m in the middle of the age ranges with the oldest being almost 30 and the youngest being 14) are all kind of ‘at the kids table’ in family gatherings with my mum’s side. It’s nice because we can just hang out and do silly things. (like a holiday we all took together years ago where when we weren’t eating together or something the adults all talked in one room, while the ‘kids’ talked in another room, plus noodling about on my cousin’s guitar, playing this silly online drawing game that everyone got addicted to, etc. The ‘adults’ would probably have been annoyed if we interrupted their conversation with that kind of thing!) I’m happy that my oldest cousin still would prefer to chat with the ‘kids’ rather than join the adult’s table. And since the next generation is probably going is still a bit of a way off, we’re enjoying the time we get to spend together. If our parents are anything to go by, once (/if) we have families of our own, we will probably begin to drift apart and not see each other as much, as our parents mostly only see their first cousins at very rare huge family gatherings now.
I can see that the LW’s status as one of the kids is causing them to feel infantalised, which is not fun. I wish them luck in bringing up the subject and connecting with their families on their own terms. I’m lucky in that I rarely feel infantalised in my ‘kid’s table’ status, and hopefully my other cousins don’t either. The only time I can think of was at my grandfather’s funeral a few months ago. In the gathering afterwards we had food, and my aunty decided that the grandchildren should pass round the food, with the implication that it wasn’t up for debate, and I was pretty upset about being put on the spot like that after such an emotional ceremony as a funeral. In practise, however, the gathering was in a small room where most people stood up, and they all helped themselves from the buffet table except my very elderly great aunt, who was well served with people bringing her food and drinks. My aunty is weird sometimes, and likes to boss people about. But it worked out ok.
I’ve been thinking recently about trying to connect more with my aunties on my dad’s side. The way it stands with my family now, I only have relationships with my aunts and uncles through my parents, especially as none of them live that close. That works fine on my mum’s side because she’s close with her family and makes sure she sees them all at least once a year if possible. We have family gatherings fairly often on that side. My dad’s side is a totally different story. We see his mother often, but he also has two sisters who I haven’t seen for several years, or my four cousins on that side. My best bet for seeing them is if they happened to be at my granny’s at the same time as we visited, but that gets less and less likely as my granny feels a lot of pressure to be the perfect hostess, and especially as she gets older she can’t cope with too many of us at once any more. My dad doesn’t arrange visits to his sister’s houses, or invite them to see us. It’s sad not having my aunties and cousins in my life any more. Also at Christmas last year I reached the age when they would no longer send Christmas gifts and I felt sad not even being able to write them a thank-you letter any more, realising that was my only contact with them. I’m now thinking I should connect on my own terms, maybe send a letter or card just because? (I don’t have email addresses for them and I don’t like phonecalls unless I know the person really well, so even though those seem like the best things to do first I’m kind of intimidated to do so.) When it comes to visiting, one of my aunts is going through a messy divorce so this is clearly not the best time, but I would love to visit my other aunt and see my two cousins, who I haven’t seen for many years. I’d make sure she wouldn’t have to fuss over me as a guest and help with the dinner/ distract the kids while she gets stuff done. That’s what being in an adult role rather than a kid role means to me. Maybe one day I’ll stop thinking of my dad as the gatekeeper to his sisters and have the courage to reach out to them.
With my granny (same side of the family) being an adult was when I started to initiate the greeting hug and kiss on the cheek. When I was a little kid she used to greet me like that but quickly realised I absolutely hated being touched, and stopped hugging me. (I’m aware I’m very lucky that she got the message and respected my preference of no hugs over her wish to hug her grandchild.) When I grew up I stopped hating being touched, but I realised my granny was waiting for my cue to start hugging again, so I started to initiate the hug when we see each other.
I’m in a similar family-order position to the LW, and for me my older cousins have been helping me make the transition. My uncle got married a couple years ago when I was 21, and when my 26-year-old cousin saw that I had been assigned to the kids table, she went “oh hell no” and squeezed me in at her table with all the 20s-to-30s cousins, then got me a glass of wine and made sure I was included in the conversation. I really appreciated her doing that. Sometimes I think it’s easier for your generation to recognize when the switch needs to happen than it is for the older generation, because they’ve gone through it more recently. I don’t see that side of the family very often due to geography, but if I lived closer I would totally make a point of hanging out with those cousins every once in a while, both because they’re cool and because being seen as part of their group is a super easy way to make sure I’m treated more like an adult.
In my family (at least, the side with more people in it) it’s really more of a generational thing.
My mom’s generation are different from mine, and the next generation below my cousins and I are another.
Asking to “move up” wouldn’t really make sense.
I would not be surprised if Grandma thinks “my kids’ kids are kids” no matter what age they get. Especially for holiday purposes.
As for stockings, we don’t really do it that way. Instead we have a secret-santa thing organized by phone among people planning to come to whoever’s place that’s doing the big family get together (it’s not the same relative each year and we all live pretty scattered apart so in any given year some people won’t show up)
SO, maybe LW could suggest changing up or adding to the stocking tradition along those lines?
Talk to the cousins in the same not-colouring-book-aged-anymore boat and set up a gift exchange. Even the 14 year old can probably manage a gift for ONE other cousin. Grandma gets to keep making her stockings if that’s what she wants to do, but LW and her cohort can also get each other more age appropriate gifts.
My family is relatively small (5 cousins, total, plus 2 spouses). I’m the oldest cousin, so I think that transition was easiest for me. I also hit a few adulthood milestones pretty early (graduated at 21, got a “real” job almost immediately, married and bought a house at 23), so that helped. My brother, the next oldest was kind of the same way. But the next three are definitely having/going to have a rougher go of it. The middle cousin graduated a year ago, but is still working the same job he had in college and is living in the same apartment with the same roommates, which has definitely led to some “he needs to grow up already” comments by our grandparents. He’s self-sufficient as far as I know, but to them, he needs to flesh out his grownup resume.
The next youngest is in college right now, so who knows how that’ll shake out. He’s non-neurotypical and gets babied a bit because of it, so I suspect he’ll also have a hard time with the being seen as an adult thing.
My youngest cousin is 12, so she’s obviously not treated as an adult at all. We actually just started letting her sit at the kids table at Christmas. We’re mostly all in our twenties/early thirties besides her, so she really wasn’t old enough til this year; the talk gets a little bawdy sometimes. It was actually really sweet; her mom walked over with her and said “(cousin) wants to ask you something” and she looked at me and kind of whispered “can I start sitting at the kids table?” (The guys still scare her a little, and I’m the oldest anyway, so apparently that makes me the gatekeeper of the kids table).
Anyway, the captain is spot-on. At some point (maybe the first or second Christmas after I was entirely self-sufficient) I started bringing food to things and getting gifts for people on my own, rather than piggybacking on my parents’ contributions. That definitely helped the transition, but without hitting those milestones (married, homeowner, professional job) it would have been way more of a struggle. That’s obviously a sucky way to think of adulthood, but it is how a lot of people think.
I think using your words about the things that are really insane (the stocking! I mean, wow) or are important to you (maybe the invite thing?) is ok, and hopefully they’ll get the hint overall.
Hi, LW: If you’re graduating this spring, and if your family’s anything like mine, maybe this Christmas will be the exciting one wherein you no longer get kiddie gifts. My dad, whose general treatment of me had not changed since I was five, suddenly began doing such wild and crazy things as asking my opinion and then deferring to it in situations wherein I knew my shit (such as how to get to my own damn house in my own damn neighborhood from my own damn grocery store) during the summer after I earned my doctorate; when I eventually mentioned that wow, this was new and exciting behavior from him, he patted me on my shoulder and announced that I wasn’t in school anymore, so, you know, it was time for him to start treating me like an adult. I was twenty-eight at the time (which means I was just old enough to have, among other things, the wisdom not to punch him directly in the nose). If your family sees COLLEGE GRADUATION as the great rite-of-passage into adulthood, maybe from now on you’ll be good!
Even if so, and especially if not, I’d add a thumbs-up to the folks upthread who suggested being sure to distance yourself from your parents when it comes to the responsibility of familial interactions, like the joys of birthday and/or Christmas cards (if you belong to a clan that sends them, send your own) and interacting with the younger folks in your family as the Cool Responsible Older Cousin Their Parents Can Trust Since S/he is Not a Child. Much luck!
My family shifted from “Erika, the baby of that generation” to “Erika, the responsible adult” in stages. First when I was old enough to drink (19 here) and moving away from home, then graduating college and working full time, but the last scraps? It took me getting engaged.
My other side of the family (in which until I was about 16 I was the youngest) it was mostly “going off to college” but I got stalled at “being treated like some wide eyed kid” after graduation until they saw me do some adult stuff. Which wasn’t “working full time, being entirely self sufficient and responsible adulting” but seeing me handle things hitting the fan. In my case it was “seeing me help out without being asked with elderly relatives health stuff/taking care of other people in general”. I suspect that would have also done it for the other side of my family but proximity made that harder.
I was in my late 30s before I got a seat at the adult table at family gatherings. It’s because I wasn’t married, my grandparents didn’t know what to do with me. I moved into my own apartment when I was 18 and paid the rent with my own money, except for that one time when I borrowed money from my folks. Had a career and a responsible, active, all around adult life. None of that mattered. It bugged me for awhile and I remember complaining to my favourite aunt. So that’s my first suggestion; have an ally in the family so that when you get the stocking full of puzzles and candy you can look across the room and roll your eyes at Aunt Myra, who will wink and smile.
My grandparents were old school and they loved me. We had a good time and ate way too much yummy food. Getting bent out of shape about my gift seemed…childish.
In my early thirties I realized that life at the kids table is way more fun. Kids talk about more fun things and do more fun things. Hang with the kids and be *that* cool relative.
Of course you want to be validated as a full fledged adult. You may have to validate yourself.
When I was 32, I was told by my then-9-year-old cousin that I wasn’t an adult because I didn’t color my hair or smoke or drink scotch.
This is by way of illustrating that it’s possible that you’ll never be considered an adult because you don’t fulfill some arcane mental criteria for adulthood in your extended family’s mind. That criteria may be something that is obvious — marriage, mortgage, baby — or something subtle and unconscious — in parts of my family, apparently, a bottle-blonde flip ‘do and a pack of Lucky Strikes. You can’t know.
FWIW, I still don’t drink, smoke, or color my hair. And, frankly, parts of my extended family still treat me (and now my husband and my child) like a socially subordinate sub-unit of my parents.
This where I can say definitely that Cap’s advice is on point. The members of my extended family with whom I have a good relationship are the ones who consider me an adult. They are the only ones I see on my own, outside of “family” get-togethers.
Similarly, my brother still gets treated as a kid even though he’s pushing 40, with mortgage and kid, because he doesn’t watch football or play poker for money. (My extended family isn’t the healthiest.)
I’ll also point out something that took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out. If I want the rights of an adult, I need to take on the responsibilities of an adult. I was in my late 20s before it dawned on me to send my aunts birthday cards. I don’t know why, I just didn’t think of it. It took less time to learn offer to bring something to parties and to offer to help clean up after a dinner (though, sexism alert, that’s only the responsibility of the adult women. The men get to watch football). And my kid brother didn’t send out a single thank you note between graduating from college until his wife took over the duty.
Also: LW, this suggestion is specific only to the Christmas-stocking thing, not the larger problem of still being perceived as a child, and also may go over like a lead balloon depending on your family dynamic. But if your family is all together when these stockings are opened, maybe ask your grandparents (or another “adult”) afterwards to help you decide how to distribute the contents of yours to the younger kids? Something like, “Hey, Grandpa Lou, I love that you guys still give us all stockings, but I don’t want the crayons to go to waste. Do you think Mary Sue or Pete would enjoy them more? Jane’s already got dibs on the teddy bear.” Might help them realize that no, really, lottery tickets and awesome spoons are a better bet for the 21-year-old than a new set of Crayola.
I became something of an “adult” to what remains of my family after I got married. Four years later, after my husband died, I turned back into a “child,” and then I said, “The hell with this.” So…Rent-A-Spouse? Or say the hell with it?
Holy shit, you became a widow/er, and your family went back to treating you like a child? I’d be PISSED. As if the trauma of losing a spouse isn’t bad enough. 😦
That is INCREDIBLY fucked up. I’m so sorry.
This happens a lot I think. A friend was asked if she was moving back in with her parents. I just don’t talk to my family much so they haven’t ever really had a chance to be horrible to me about it.
This is an issue that’s caused ridiculous damage in my family. My mother treated us all like children, and insisted she knew better than us because she’d “been around a lot longer” than we had, despite the fact that she’s a hermit who has effectively isolated herself from the world for decades and therefore has no perspective on what’s normal or not. “I’m the parent. You’re the child. I don’t care how old you are, you do what I tell you!”. Friends, dating, relationships, any social life at all were actively discouraged. She’d also scream at us day and night about how much she hated us and wished we were dead. I have no doubt that mental illness was a contributing factor, but every time I tried to get her to seek help she’d be offended by the suggestion.
My older sister was 26 when she started dating her eventual husband (also her eventual ex-husband, but that’s a different story). My mother was furious about her dating, and gave her the silent treatment. For a while, when she did talk to my sister, she wouldn’t even use her name. She’d just call her “girl”, as in “Don’t you talk to me like that, girl!”. Remember, this is about a 26-year-old woman daring to date. My sister went on to attempt suicide twice.
Once my older sister got married, my mother claimed she was much better about that sort of thing. So much better, in fact, that she said about my younger sister (who was around 21 or 22) “I am so glad the only people she knows are on the internet, and that they’re so far away that she’ll never actually meet them”. Yes, that is an exact quote, to the best of my recollection. I asked her if she thought my younger sister was old enough to be in a relationship at that age. She thought about it for a minute and said honestly “I don’t know”. Eventually, my sister met a guy online, and it got to the point where she wanted to meet him. My mother begged me – begged me – to find a way to stop her. Eventually, the only way my sister got her own way was to threaten to move out with the guy and sever all ties.
As for me, I didn’t try to resist the way my sisters did. I was admittedly angry about things, and there were a lot of shouting matches, but I didn’t try to openly defy her. Leaving wasn’t an option for a long time, because my mother needed help keeping a roof over her head, but I did try to convince myself that things would be better when I eventually got out. They weren’t. The damage was already done. You don’t get to become a functioning adult when the necessary foundation for growing into one was stolen from you by someone who was too afraid of the world and everyone in it to actually let you grow up.
I’m you in 20 years, dear writer. My advice is twofold: 1) behave like an adult (which I’m sure you already do) and people will treat you like one eventually, and 2) enjoy being a kid while you can. As your parents age the roles will begin to reverse.
In my family, my sister and I are in a weird limbo area where the next oldest cousins are around 10 years older than we are and the next youngest about 10 years younger. We were stuck at the kids’ table with a bunch of toddlers for quite a while into our teens, but my mom’s family is Catholic, so basically the little ones quickly outnumbered us to the point where we literally didn’t fit at the kids’ table anymore. They did like to stick me with babysitting duty for a while when I was the last one over 12 and under 21, but then one of my little dickwad cousins literally threw a basketball at my head and I declared myself done. It seemed to work.
My extended family was really weird about this and I got to be a part of the weirdness as it started to change. Just an FYI, I’m talking about my Mom’s side of the family here, she has 5 siblings and together they had 29 children, so yeah it was always a big gathering even when some weren’t there. So we always had adult tables and kids tables at family gatherings, my grandma got toys or other kid-gifts for all the grandchildren, but once kids started getting older (late teens and up) it started getting weird. Grandma shifted the gift giving to be age appropriate for the most part which was nice (eventually she gave up with trying to get something for the older kids and would do a pair of socks and $20), but for the kids vs. adult activities it was weird. At first the unwritten rule was you had to be married to be considered an adult, but then we I got married first, the 5th oldest, then the cousins that were older than me demanded adulthood too. After that it just got kind of weird until great-grandchildren started appearing, then it was easier again as they were clearly the kids and only the very youngest cousins of mine would get lumped in with them, now the youngest is in high school so it’s not weird again 🙂
For me, I had it “easy” in a way since I was married young (22) I didn’t really bother fighting the adult vs. kid thing and let that solve it for me. But I think since you are 21 now, it’s more than reasonable to pipe up (gently) to whoever does the gifts and table assignments. And I also like the Captain’s recommendations to show your family you are an adult through invitations and giving gifts as your own person and so on, that will go a long way too.
I feel a bit odd being the only one jumping in to say this, but can we have a general acknowledgment in this thread that a social system by which a person needs to reach a certain age or certain life milestones in order to be considered a “real person” who might make decisions differently from their parents or have interests outside of age-based stereotypes is a social system that is *shitty* and *weird* and *gross*? And that even though we’re all swimming in it we might make the effort to not implicitly support it?
No argument from me!
Argent, thank you so much for saying that. The implicit support of this kind of world IS really shitty and weird and gross and it’s creeping me out so much!!!!!!!! Also making me pretty angry but I will try my best to set that aside for now.
That’s what I’ve been thinking this whole time–the shit people are saying here, though well-meaning, about “act like an adult so you will be treated like an adult” seems profoundly oppressive. Is it ageism, or adultism, or what? I don’t know what it’s called, but yeah, I call bullshit.
I mentioned this in another thread, but unfortunately in our society the notion of being treated “like a child” tends to mean to be condescended to, and being treated “like an adult” tends to mean to be respected. LW deserves to be treated with respect–it is disrespectful of her (fellow) adults to be putting her in such a situation that it’s come upon her to basically manipulate them into treating her better.
LW: You deserve to be treated better. I suppose you can use some of these tips to change people’s treatment of you. But I would like above all to acknowledge that some of this advice seems to be a cousin to victim-blaming (i.e., you’re only being treated like a child because you are “asking for” this kind of treatment). And that’s WRONG.
I think it would be better to say outright that you want different treatment. You don’t have to join in the politics of performing socially-defined, manipulative-seeming adultness if you don’t want to. To demand better/different treatment allows you to be honest, rather than to sink to the condescending manipulations of others.
In my family (well, at least on the side that still has large get-togethers involving everyone), we have a grown-up table, a kids’ table, and a grown-up kids’ table (which was originally the kids’ table until some of us started having kids, and we decided as a group to call it the grown-up kids’ table). Our youngest aunt often joins the grown-up kids’ table, and my cousin and her spouse often go to the grown-up table. It’s kinda fluid, and has a lot more to do with which family members we like to be around (or really, which family members we don’t want to be around) than it really does with our ages.
As for Christmas adult vs. kids, we basically just decided that once you graduate high school, you can keep being a kid for another year or two if you want, or go ahead and choose to be in the adult side. Kids get gifts from grandparents; adults don’t b/c they’re part of the same name drawing that the grandparents participate in; also the spending limits are higher for adults ($35) than for kids ($20), so that’s the reason I stayed a kid until I was 20. But the choice is mostly up to you, though once you’re an adult, you don’t get to go back. You decide when Thanksgiving comes around because that’s when we do the name drawing. If you’re not there for Thanksgiving, you just have to let someone to put your name in for you. And some adults choose not to participate in the name drawing, so you’re not forced/shamed into participating, either. (Also, siblings/parents can’t draw each other’s names; you just redraw if that happens).
It’s a pretty good system, one that we never deliberately set out to create, but just created itself b/c we adapted as everyone got older and some people started having kids.
Meant to add, also for the last few years, when we get together for Easter, we have a “little kids” egg hunt, and then a “grown-up” egg hunt (any grown-up can participate); the remaining grown-ups and any little kids who want to will hide the eggs for that, so everyone gets to do both hiding and hunting if they want. The first year we did that, it was SO MUCH FUN we decided to just keep doing it (it doesn’t hurt that the grandparents put loose change in the eggs…and both rounds have a golden egg full of cash). There’s nothing quite like watching a bunch of adults scrambling to find more plastic eggs than the others, and crowing with glee when they find the golden egg.
You just reminded me of my grandmother’s Easter egg hunt tradition. She’d hide eggs for all different age/skill levels: some would be hidden in really difficult-to-find spots, some were easier to find but were up high where younger kids couldn’t reach, and some were right out in the open – and she always had a special egg, too. The youngest kids would go up first and scoop up the easy candy, followed by the older kids, then finally the teenagers and adults would go up and search for the most challenging eggs. It was so much fun, and a great way to involve everyone. Thanks for spurring the memory!
Now, in my family treating the kids in age-appropriate ways as they cease to be kids is kind of a team effort. Different people reach milestones at different rates, so it’s usually some combination of:
1- Relatives ask parents what their kids are “into” – even if they know the kid really well themselves – whenever gift-buying is required.
2- Parents, on their part, guide people towards appropriate age-related gifting. Such as mentioning when the kids “don’t play with toys any more” or suggesting vouchers for cinemas or other stuff, or even going with “well I know Erica will generally be happy with a nice bottle of her favourite rum!”.
3- Being in independent contact with family is a great way to show who you are, now. Its hard for grandpa to think of you as one of the kids when you frequently chat to him on the phone about things like how you just installed your recently purchased washing machine into your kitchen, and how you’re really glad you went with $White Goods Retailer like Grandpa recommended, because they supplied a bag with the small stuff you needed to get everything hooked up. Or when you frequently bond by having conversations where you “put the world to rights” over political or religious debate.
4- Being an active participant in Adult Supporting of Family tends to go a long way towards granting Adult Points. So, for example, hearing from Aunt M that Cousin G is going to be moving home soon, and volunteering to help drive some of their belongings to their new house, or to help with furniture assembly or re-carpeting the hallway. It’s okay to also need help with that stuff in return. The important thing is to be having these conversations and making these arrangements yourself, rather than having it be conveyed via Parent.
5- In my family, everyone – of every age – is also allowed to still sometimes want to be One of The Kids, when that happens to be fun, without losing Adult Points. Which means some of us continue to get things like lego kits or small remote control toys in with our more age-appropriate gifts, because it’s become family tradition for me, my spouse, little sis, my mum and my uncles to all get outrageously drunk and shouty-talk at each other while competetively playing with our toys after Christmas dinner. Part of being an adult in the family *also* means not getting offended and “but I’m a growwwwn up now” when those gifts are given out.
My extended family started treating me like an adult when I started visiting them on my own – which I guess makes sense, and is similar to the Captain’s advice to try and get to know your family on their own terms. Because public transport where we live isn’t great, and from the age of 16 I worked/colleged/lived away, I would only visit family members with my mum because she drove. So I was always “Nell’s daughter” part of “Nell’s family” rather than a person in my own right. When I got a job, moved in with my boyfriend, and got a car, I was able to visit my grandparents and cousins on my own, so their perception of me changed. I think it helped as well that I now live nearest out of all my cousins to my grandparents, so I often just pop round to help them with stuff (my nana had two hip replacements early this year so sometimes just needs a hand).
On a side note, absolutely agree with everyone saying folk who live with their parents shouldn’t be seen as somehow failing at life. I left home age 18, worked all over the country, then got a full time job in my hometown and moved back in with my parents. I loved it – they only have a small house but they accepted that I might struggle to adjust back to family life after years of independence, and I tried my best to be respectful. I left because I moved in with my boyfriend, not because I was in any way unhappy – it was actually a real wrench to leave. I think that’s a really great thing to be able to say, and that I am really lucky to come from a family like that (and absoutely recognise that not everyone can say that, and that’s fine too). I still see my parents at least once a week – not because I’m somehow failing at adulthood, but because I want to, because I get on with them as people and have a great time in their company.
I can’t help with the infantilizing problem, if that is indeed what is going on, but I can share the tune that will NOT stop running through my head while reading this, and hope it makes you smile:
“Well, I don’t hate my parents.
I don’t get drunk just to spite them.
I’ve got my own reasons to drink now!
I think I’ll call my dad up and invite him.
I can sleep in till noon anytime I want,
Though there’s not many days that I do.
Gotta get up and take on that world!
When you’re an adult, it’s no cliche’, it’s the truth.
‘Cause I’m an adult now!
I’m an adult now!
I’ve got the problems of an adult
On my head and on my shoulders.
I’m an adult now…”
Damn, I really identify with this. I moved back to the States with my brother and father when I was 19, after having lived across the Pacific/Atlantic for the previous 11 years, so I barely remembered any of my extended family. I was going through a pretty serious bout of depression/social anxiety, so at family events I would usually stick pretty close to my dad, not knowing what to say to anyone else. The host family was usually my dad’s sister et al, and despite me being between their middle child and youngest child in terms of age, I always felt infantalized (which was worse when there were actual infants there -_-). I mean, I guess it made sense to them, because my uncle’s idea of sex-ed was, “If your name’s not on the mortgage, you’re not ready for sex,” but I got pretty sick of it — and sick of the constant judging about my long hair, not having a job, not having finished community college, not having friends, not having a girlfriend, and general laziness for sleeping until 9am — so I haven’t been to a family gathering in several years. I cannot express how glad I am to have continually dodged that bullet.
tl;dr, I know that feel, fuck that noise.
A quote from Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, one I’ve seen brought up here on Captain Awkward’s blog before, comes to mind:
“There’s something to that in both directions,” said Ekaterin mildly. “Nothing is more guaranteed to make one start acting ike a child than to be treated like one. It’s so infuriating. It took me the longest time to figure out how to stop falling into that trap.”
“Yes, exactly,” said Kareen eagerly. “You understand! So—how did you make them stop?”
“You can’t make them—whoever your particular them is—do anything, really,” said Ekaterin slowly. “Adulthood isn’t an award they’ll give you for being a good child. You can waste . . . years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I’m sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that’s hard.”
I agree with the Captain’s advice. There are ways to make it abundantly clear that you are an Adult, an equal, with your own agency. Those are good things to do for yourself and to strengthen your familial bonds. But… Adulthood isn’t a gift they can give. And even if they could, they might not. You could become a babysitting, home improving, conversing machine and some or all of them might still treat you like a child. So the most important thing is to promote yourself in your own eyes.
You are an adult. Regardless of partnerships, jobs, finances, or living situations, you are an adult. And if people give you crap… Sometimes you just have to “say, I’m sorry you feel like that, and walk away”. No matter how hard.
“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.”
Oooh, I wouldn’t do this, actually. The first one frames you as the teen who babysits while the adults go out and do adult things, and the second one puts you as the actual teens’ peer instead of as an adult. Just stick with the things where a babysitter is gotten for the kids so you and the adults can go do something.
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