Independence, experience accompany adulthood

A+student+opens+an+illustrated+curtain%2C+as+if+to+enter+into+a+foreign+world.+Photo+illustration+by+Sarah+Kuhlmann%2C+Ana+Manzano.

A student opens an illustrated curtain, as if to enter into a foreign world. Photo illustration by Sarah Kuhlmann, Ana Manzano.

Bailey Stover

When junior Maddy Kovaleski first started driving, her parents got her a bank account and debit card to pay for gas. For the first few months she would get gas whenever it was convenient, not giving her spending a second thought. She paid for her expenses with what she had saved from Christmas presents and miscellaneous gifts. At a “very inconvenient time” during the summer, however, she realized she was broke.

“My parents were pretty mad, but they also kind of accepted the fact that they didn’t tell me, like remind me to keep an eye on it,” Kovaleski said. “So after that I’ve gotten a lot better about planning that. I know how to make a budget now. I actually keep track of my expenses and income.”

To stay organized with her finances, Kovaleski bullet journals and keeps a monthly spread of how much she is spending. While she said she slacked on it earlier in the year, one of her New Year’s resolutions has been to be more organized, which in turn allows her to remain relatively self-reliant. While in the U.S. one becomes a legal adult at the age of 18, the educational resource material group Lumen Learning categorized adulthood into three stages, the first of which begins around 20 to 21 years of age and lasts about two decades. 

During early adulthood, Lumen Learning said one finds meaning through work and family. For virtually his entire life, 2019 alumnus Kai Ford, a current freshman at Harvard University, has felt “rather independent.” He said being a functioning adult is a combination of increasing one’s awareness of the world outside his or her education community and developing self-reliance. 

“My mother, from an early age, gifted me much more trust than was common,” Ford said. “I was buying groceries with her debit card by the age of 10, traveling all over town well into the night by myself, and many other things that many parents would fear to let their children do.”

His mother’s trust meant Ford was able to be more involved than some of his peers and not worry about meeting a curfew, which in turn made him feel “more self-assured being independent.” In social situations, such as refusing peer pressure or going in for an interview, Ford said he has felt confident. 

When dealing with her own transition into the world of higher education, Kovaleski is enthusiastic to experience living without her parents. She said she is “a little bit paranoid” about the possibility of a home invasion because of what she has read on the news. Kovaleski said she intends to live with a roommate both to reduce the cost of living and as an additional degree of protection and comfort when living away from home. 

“I feel that’s going to be another big step in money management when I have to think about rent and electricity and water outside of a dorm if I get an apartment, which I hope to at some point,” Kovaleski said. “I’m a little worried that I’m going to plan a lot and whoever I’m living with is not going to be ready to plan as much as I do and we’re going to get into some disagreements about that.”

Parental guidance, support aid transition into adulthood

Becoming an adult is a complex process, and what may represent adulthood for one person may not be the same for another. Some people seek out guidance in the form of a life coach, a person who helps support clients’ personal growth and goal-setting, according to the recruitment site jobisjob.com. Civics Studies teacher Debra Perry, who has a Masters in Positive Coaching, said she was already married with two daughters before she knew for sure she was an adult. Perry said she thinks her children are “better, stronger, more thoughtful young adults” than she was at their age. From early on, Perry made sure they had the education and ability to take care of themselves, such as being able to do their own laundry from a young age.

Did you know?
The average marriage age is 29 for men and 27 for women. [Source: Businessinsider.com]

“I think I had some clear ideas about what I think I wanted in my children, and the first was to be kind and capable,” Perry said, “and I saw my role as preparing them to be independent and not dependent on me.”

Kovaleski’s first true taste of autonomy came a year ago when, while her grandparents were visiting, her grandfather passed away. She said his death disoriented her family, and they had to take care of her grandmother. Second semester had recently started, and Kovaleski was suddenly responsible for getting rides for after-school events, watching out for her younger brother and, on one occasion, finding a place to spend the night.

“It was sort of like a flash-forward for a few months of, ‘I need to handle almost everything myself,’” Kovaleski said. “Not because my parents aren’t willing to help me, but because I’m worried that it will be too much.”

As Kovaleski experienced her newfound self-sufficiency, she glimpsed what her life may entail after graduation, especially if she ends up at an out-of-state school to pursue a degree in engineering. While Ford’s transition into the world of adult responsibilities happened earlier in life than Kovaleski’s, they both were thankful for the support their families provided. Ford said because of the trust his mother invested in him, he did not feel too nervous about entering college. The trust she created in their relationship helped “foster a strong foundation” for Ford’s future self.

Regardless of how prepared Ford thought himself to be at the beginning of college, securing official documents and navigating communication among himself, his mother, administrators and medical personnel presented its own challenge. Along with managing his own employment records and insurance cards, Ford said he also found ways to strengthen his ability to advocate for himself by attending office hours with professors and taking on internships.

“Going to college has helped me identify the disconnect between my family’s status, whether that be financial or social, and my own social mobility,” Ford said. “I’ve started thinking about future career paths, and while investigating I came to realize that my own initiative had a much more direct impact on what I could do and become.”

When her children were growing up, Perry saw herself as the “ringmaster of the circus,” but over time her role shifted, and she became “more of a counselor than a person who jumped in” and solved their problems. Adjusting to this new dynamic required a transition period.

“I used to say — it’s such a Southern kind of mom thing — your hands are in my pocket, my hands are in your business kind of thing,” Perry said. “And then when they became independent and their hands weren’t in my pocket, I was like, ‘Oh, oh, what do I do now?’”

After her daughters finished college, Perry said they settled firmly into themselves when they were about 25. She changed how and when she offered advice, so she does not become “a helicopter parent of adult children.” As a mother, though, when one child was ill she flew to D.C. to take care of her, and when her other daughter called needing her advice about a new job opportunity, she was more than happy to oblige.

“I just started waiting to be asked, and I was being asked less and less because they had their stuff together,” Perry said. “So sometimes I have to have a conversation with myself: ‘That means the kids are OK, and that’s a good thing.’”

During her own transition into adulthood, Kovaleski said she is learning to recognize how and when to ask for help. As a “very prideful individual,” she felt at odds with her own self-perception when, for the first time in her high school career, she had to go to the math tutor room for help completing her Advanced Placement Calculus BC homework. That experience forced her to reflect on how she will handle real-world tasks, such as doing laundry, and when asking for help is the best course of action.|

“I think when you are trying to be self-sufficient for the first time ever, you’re going to run into stuff that you can’t really do yourself,” Kovaleski said. “And I think it’s going to be difficult to recognize situations where it’s going to be better for me to be on my own versus ask my family or one of my friends to help me with something.”

While she is proud of her children’s self-reliance, Perry said she still loves the feeling of being needed when they come to her for advice. As a grandmother, Perry now compares her position in her grandson’s life to that of Queen Elizabeth: she has a kingdom, but no real power. While she said the new dynamics of her relationships with her children is good, she does miss taking care of her family.

“It’s like I’m glad they’re independent because I do know — I do have friends and people that I know who have to really take care of their adult kids, and so I’m grateful that I don’t, but when they come to me, I love that,” Perry said. “I say to them, ‘Home is a place where you are loved and wanted and so go out in the world but know that there’s an anchor here where you’re loved and wanted.’”

Moments of growth signify passage into new territory

Although Ford said he is more familiar with Columbia, nowadays he claims Boston as his home if someone asks because he feels connected to it. The moment Ford truly came into his own happened when he was nearly 1,300 miles from home. Ever since he was legally allowed to work, Ford said he has held a part-time job. This trend continued during college, and Ford said he was able to accumulate some money. During the middle of his first semester, he said his mother’s car required significant repairs, which she was not able to afford at the time.

“Luckily, I had the money in my bank account and was able to cover the cost for her,” Ford said. “Realizing that, if I hadn’t had worked during the semester, the cost of the repair would have placed great strain on my family led me to acknowledge that I wasn’t just the kid of the family anymore, but a fully functioning adult who accumulated my own wealth and assisted my family just as everyone else did.”

Ford’s ability to aid his mother in her time of need marked, at least temporarily, a role-reversal in his life where he was able to help support her financially. Through college and his own financial awareness, he is learning to make connections that will enable him to pursue a career he is passionate about in the future. To be a successful educator at RBHS, Perry said one must be completely invested in his or her work. After two years of going back and forth trying to decide what to do, she took a year-long sabbatical from teaching to work on her Master’s degree in positive coaching, since she plans to be a life coach in her next career. She said being a student again allowed her to better understand situations from a student’s perspective. Rather than telling students how to improve their time management or complete their homework, Perry now tries to empower them more by asking questions and have them provide solutions themselves. For Perry, the idea of being a life coach is similar to the job of a teacher, without an attachment to content.

“It’s not about fixing people; it’s just about helping people to become the best versions of themselves,” Perry said. “I think that’s the goal of a life coach: to help people arrive at their truth rather than you giving it to them, and I’m trying to do more of that.”

Being a life coach is rooted in positive psychology and human flourishing, Perry said. The role of the coach is to walk alongside, listen to, echo back to and hold accountable the person he or she is working with, which she said is similar to “what your best bud is for.” Additionally, she said life coaches give people a place to go when they need support in moving toward their goals. In both her position as a life coach and her role as a mother, Perry tries to focus on “asking more questions than giving answers.” Because of their capableness in their lives, said she has a deep respect and appreciation for both her children.

“Sometimes I’m like, ‘Oh, woe is me,’ and then sometimes I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is the way it’s supposed to be.’ It’s a tough place to be: a parent with these kids that you have that are [your everything],” Perry said. “They’re like your heart. Like you would give your life and your last thing for them, and then for them to be independent out there, which is what you’re supposed to do, but [it can be hard sometimes].”

As much as parents may mourn their children’s departure from the nest, Perry said this is a nearly inevitable life step. She said being able to make decisions for and be in-touch with oneself are necessary when making important decisions. From significant financial decisions like retirement to small household repairs like changing a faucet, Kovaleski said being an adult means being able to adapt to situations and help others do the same. She said she once read all people should have three hobbies: one to keep them in shape, one to earn them money and one to make them happy. Rather than viewing adulthood as a fixed state one reaches, she sees it as one constantly in flux. 

“Living on your own doesn’t make you an adult. Knowing how to do your taxes doesn’t make you an adult,” Kovaleski said. “I think it’s really just an acceptance that you’re going to keep learning how to do things.”

What does being an adult mean to you? Let us know in the comments below.