The Trouble with Adulting: An Independent Living Perspective

Trouble with Adulting header

Right now, everyone seems to love a bit of ‘adulting,’ celebrating being able to do tasks on your own or reaching milestones that are defined as grown up or which make you seem more like a functioning adult. These could be anything from getting out of bed at a reasonable time, to doing your laundry once a week, to booking a doctor’s appointment by yourself. I think this has a huge positive side as it acknowledges that being an adult is bloody hard work and that no-one really knows what they’re doing. We’re all just stumbling along the best we can. It also affirms that it’s OK not to act ‘like an adult’ all of the time. Every time I see someone exclaim on social media ‘Don’t make me adult today!’ I think ‘thank God someone else feels the same way I do!’ It’s a way of recognising that things which may seem insignificant are actually huge achievements in life and that’s great! I celebrate my own adulting too, for example when I wrote my CV for the first time, and the first time I booked my own train tickets. I submitted my claim for PIP today and if that’s not adulting then I don’t know what is!

However, I have a big problem with the way we talk about adulting. Because we largely define adulting, or living independently, as being able to do certain specific actions by yourself without assistance, it excludes and infantilises disabled people. It’s like being an adult is a computer game and you have to unlock certain achievements before you can move on to the next level. I’m going to take an example from Rosianna Halse Rojas’ recent video which inspired this blog, and which I will link to below:

Level 1: Being able to use the microwave safely
Level 2: Mastering a simple pasta sauce
Level 3: Being a ‘good cook’ with a full repertoire of dishes

I’m just about on level 1 and because of my disability I’ll probably never make it to level 2 or 3; I would never trust my body to pour boiling hot pasta over a collander and chopping up a carrot feels like the equivalent of half an hour in the gym for me! So, because I’ll probably never be able to cook my own meals or change my own bedsheets does that make me less of an adult than my non-disabled peers? If an intellectually disabled person needs help to make phone calls or fill in forms throughout their life, then does that make them less of an adult than others around them? ‘Of course not’ you might say, but that’s what the adulting narrative and society’s attitude as a whole seems to suggest.

This has real consequences for disabled people. It contributes to the idea that disabled people are incapable, child-like and lesser. It justifies the notion that not only is it acceptable to talk to whoever is with a disabled person, rather than the person themselves in an interaction, but that it’s also perfectly OK for the non-disabled adults in a disabled person’s life to make decisions on their behalf. You can’t cook your own dinner? OK, someone will come and make this meal for you, at this time. You have no say in the matter. You can’t administer your own personal care? Well then there’s no way you can go on that holiday with your mates. You’re not proficient at adulting and you need to be cared for, so you can’t make decisions about your life. It sounds harsh, but that is the reality for many disabled people.

What can we do about this? I’m not saying that we need to banish the term and stop celebrating our adulting wins, but rather reframe the way we see what being a successful adult is. We need to untie the concept of adulting from the completion of a standard set of activities in a particular time frame. If you are the age of an adult and you are living life, then congratulations, you are adulting successfully! This has absolutely nothing to do whether you can put the washing in or make more than a sandwich by the age of 18 or 21 or whatever. I might not have been making my own meals or cleaning my own flat while I was in Brussels, but I was sure as hell adulting just as well as any of my non-disabled peers! The key here is that it does not matter exactly what you can and can’t do for yourself, you’re still an adult and you still have an equal right to live a meaningful and happy life and have full choice and control over where you live and what you do. This is the true definition of Independent Living. Therefore, when we celebrate successfully adulting, we shouldn’t be cheering just because we’ve done something which society defines as grown up, but because we’ve taken a step towards that happy, independent life.

Society says that I should be able to tie my shoelaces and wash my own hair but you know what? I don’t even aspire to be able to do these things! I’m perfectly happy to let my PA take care of that while I focus my time and energy on things more important me like my writing and looking for a job, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of!

In order to really take this new way of thinking on board, we need to get rid of the competitiveness and hierarchy that comes with the way we talk about adulting.

“You’re doing your taxes already?! You’re so much more advanced at adulting than me!”
“You cleaned the house today? I cannot successfully adult to that level right now!”

No! If you are an adult, then you are adulting and whether or not you need support to do day-to-day tasks doesn’t change that.

So by all means celebrate those achievements that come with getting older, but do it because you’ve moved towards living the life you want to live, not because you’ve reached a point society labels as ‘more adult’, and don’t panic if you’re disabled and you feel like you’re not adulting in the way that your friends are. You’re still an adult, you’re still worthy of equal respect and you’re still awesome.

References and Further Reading

ENIL’s Independent Living Fact sheet

Rosianna Halse Rojas- Adulting with Rosianna| Ad

4 thoughts on “The Trouble with Adulting: An Independent Living Perspective

  1. Rebecca this is brilliant & so very true.
    Even an oldie like myself sometimes feels I’m not adult in cos I don’t reach all the targets laid down by ‘society’
    As for Nathan & Cerys I just want them to move forward to the life they want to achieve.

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