There’s a pop culture verb floating around out there that I’m wondering if you’ve heard of yet. Maybe you recognize the word. Maybe you don’t. I mean, it is still pretty new. But make no mistake, the word adulting is real and it’s out there. And it totally fascinates me.
This new word, which I guess you could call a concept, has fast become a major buzzword out there in the mainstream, especially among millennials. Or with anyone talking about millennials. So if, by some freak chance, you haven’t come across it yet, you will. And now, when you do, you won’t feel stupid.
Personally, I feel like I’m hearing or reading about adulting everywhere lately; so it felt worthy of a little extra attention. Because I love a good cultural phenomena.
Before we talk about the actual word in any detail, though, like what it really refers to or how it even came to be, I think it’s important to understand why the word refers exclusively to millennials. So here’s a little history…
In simple terms, millennials, aka Generation Y, are the demographic born between the early 1980s and early 2000. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, they’re actually the largest living population on the planet right now. So the word adulting was coined especially for them.
It’s a clever adaptation of a very old and very plain word that’s got linguists around the world and all the lexicographers at Dictionary.com salivating all over themselves. And that’s because, according to a recent article in Time.com, the word started out as just an ordinary noun and then evolved into a catchy verb that was then turned back into a clever noun. We’re talking Word-of-the-Year contender.
The guys at Urban Dictionary define it like this…
Adulting (v): to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as, a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grownups. Used in a sentence: Jane is adulting quite well today as she is on time for work promptly at 8am and appears well-groomed.
So to say someone is adulting has become a cheeky way of making fun of the fact that the majority of millennials are doing adult-like things much later in life than their baby boomer parents did, and their parents before them. In other words, millennials are getting married and having kids and buying houses and paying bills much later in life than past generations have, historically. Much, much later.
Ultimately (and unfortunately), that’s put millennials behind the eight ball when it comes to managing grown-up responsibilities. Which, in my opinion, isn’t good. And the simple reason why it’s not good is because these things that they’re putting off learning how to do are critical life skills that they can’t live without. Unless, of course, they’re planning on living in mommy and daddy’s basement forever.
Now sure, millennials are tech-savvy and more aware of what’s going on in the world than we were back in the day, but too many of them still don’t know what it means to pay rent or work full-time or shop or cook for themselves. And that’s because they haven’t been expected to do those things the way earlier generations were. So consequently, they perceive those things (when they do do them) like accomplishments. Like they’re playing grownup.
What I find so interesting is that the very nature of the word adulting implies pretty heavily that growing up is a conscious choice rather than just a natural evolution. I mean, it’s just so funny to me that so many millennials are tossing around #adulting all over social media when they do things like cook a meal or pay bills or work an eight-hour day. Because those are normal, routine, day-to-day things that are just a part of life as an adult. But that’s the thing, a lot of millennials don’t see them that way, which is why the word has become so popular with that generation.
I just think the whole concept is comical (and maybe even a little disturbing). That’s probably because one of my two kids is a millennial right now. And as much as Dave and I have consciously, actively raised her to be independent and comfortable doing grown-up stuff, it still cracks me up when she makes a big deal about going to the bank to deposit her paycheck. Because, to her, doing something as simple as cashing her check feels like such an adult thing to do. And she’s still so inclined to ask me to do it for her. Which is why she’s totally adulting on the rare occasion when she does it herself. And the doing-it-for-her part is on me. Because I’ll be the first to admit that I do that sort of thing for my kids all the time. We all do. More out of habit and courtesy if I’m already going to the bank or doing the laundry. But we can’t anymore. Or, rather, we shouldn’t. Because the more we keep them from becoming legit adults themselves, the worse off this next generation will be. So sorry, babe. From now on, it’s just life. #justliving
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at Lisa Sugarman. Or, find them on LittleThings.com, BeingaMom.life, GrownandFlown.com and Care.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is and Untying Parent Anxiety (Years 5-8): 18 Myths that Have You in Knots – And How to Get Free