In the United States, when a teenager turns 18, they are technically considered an adult. But I for one did not necessarily feel like an adult when I was 18. I had already been legally driving for two years, I could vote, and I was three years away from legally consuming alcohol. I figured there were many other milestone moments to look forward to that would mark the momentous occasion of actual adulthood rather than turning the big 1-8. Things like adopting a dog, buying a car, getting engaged and married, having kids, and purchasing real estate (as in, an actual home). You get the picture.
But what if you’re well into adulthood and have not checked off any of these typical adult to-do items?
This may leave you feeling like you have a permanent seat at the proverbial kids’ table of life. Meanwhile, everyone your age (or even younger) seems to be more adult-like than you.
If that’s you, then please pull up a chair – because I am right there with you.
As I’m in my mid-30s, I am clearly very well into adulthood. But because I have not celebrated any of these milestone moments, what is a girl to do? Cry and throw a pity party for one? Though tempting, there are some better ways to handle these uncomfortable feelings.
What do you do when you feel like you are forever at the kids’ table?
1. Be compassionate
Nira Shah, LMHC, Psychotherapist, Yoga Instructor, and Owner of Sia Wellness Mental Health Counseling PLLC, says the very first thing you want to do is show yourself some compassion, especially if you are self-critical and beating yourself up for not having yet reached these life milestones just yet.
“Give yourself grace and kind words. If it feels difficult to find the words, what would you say to someone that you are very close with, who was in the same place?” asks Shah.
You may feel alone at the “kids’ table,” but it’s still important to connect with your community. It could be family or friends or anyone to help you feel like you are continuing to grow, shares Shah.
“Whether it be getting involved in local community efforts, stepping up in your roles as an aunt/uncle, or taking the lead on organizing activities with others, immerse yourself in actionable, responsible ideas,” recommends Shah.
3. Explore expectations
Next, Shah says you may want to explore your own expectations of where you think you are supposed to be and why those expectations exist in the first place.
“Is it due to your cultural views, family, society, or your upbringing? Reflect with curiosity on how you might not be meeting your expectations and where they have come from,” advises Shah.
Your sights may be set on what you have yet to accomplish in life. However, Shah recommends taking some time to reflect on where you are right now and what you have achieved up until this point.
“While society milestones are one way to mark moving forward, they are not the only way. Exploring the world, job success, learning new skills, personal growth, and strengthening relationships, are also meaningful ways to grow as an adult and sometimes, even more, significant internally than hitting those external milestones,” notes Shah. “Begin to notice what things you can celebrate.” Then, acknowledge and take pride in those things.
5. Work on acceptance
Finally, one of the most important things you can do when you feel like you are an adult and still sitting at the kids’ table of life is to practice self-acceptance. Shah reminds us that your journey is your own and everyone’s path will look different.
“Hitting the classical milestones does not equal happiness or joy,” notes Shah. “Paving your own path and timeline can be beautiful.”