Why Isn’t There an Instruction Manual for ‘Adulting’?


“Mom, what is this thing and do I need to include it with my income tax return documents?” asks my clearly exasperated daughter, with no preamble, as she holds up the document in question to the screen so I can take a look.

It only takes me a few seconds to identify said report, and to tell her that no, the document she is showing me refers to benefits she is slowly accumulating in her provincial retirement fund.

“Just file that one away for later, honey,” I advise her.

“Well how much later? How long do I have to keep this thing?” replies my annoyed twentysomething offspring, who apparently never intends to age to the point where she’ll need to even contemplate the concept of ‘retirement’.

As we continue to talk, she holds a wide variety of papers up to the screen and asks ‘what she is supposed to do with ‘this’, or ‘that’. It slowly dawns on me that she has no filing system whatsoever. When I question her about it, I discover that all of her ‘important’ papers have been carelessly stuffed into an old backpack.

“Haven’t you been using the little filing box I gave you honey??” (several years ago, I don’t add). I am more than a little horrified that my long-ago ‘how to file your life’ lesson apparently didn’t take at all.

“I didn’t see the point of it! It’s in storage somewhere!” she snaps, and the rant takes off in full earnest.

“This is stupid! Why can’t we just do all of this on-line? Why do I have to send them a copy of a document they clearly already have? Why don’t they tell us we have to keep all this stuff for later? Why don’t they teach us this stuff in school? How is anyone supposed to figure this out?”

I know her pretty well and I know this rant is going to last awhile. I sit back and quietly allow her to blow off some steam before her step-father and I (he walked into the room mid-rant) empathetically tell her that yes, we went through this same learning curve in our twenties and that yes, it is a lot to master but not to worry, she’ll get there just like all the rest of the adults before her did.

I love the word ‘adulting’. It’s a concept that is as old as time but each generation thinks they invented it. And it sums up that lost, adrift feeling so well, when all you want to do is call your Mom and ask her to fix it for you, even as you know that she cannot, indeed, must not.

Strange as this sounds, I became an adult in French. I moved to Québec when I was just twenty and still in university. I had been babysitting since I was eleven and working since I was sixteen but Dad had always taken care of ‘things’, including filing my income tax returns. Once I arrived in Québec, there were brand new rules and regulations to learn and being so far away from my parents, I was on my own. Just like my daughter, I tearfully went through the painful process of becoming an adult, way back in the 80s. Over the decades that I lived far from home, I opened bank accounts, signed rental leases, took on a mortgage, paid bills, bought insurance, squirreled a bit of money away into RRSPs when I could, and over time – set up a decent filing system for my growing mountain of paperwork.

It wasn’t until my husband and I – both anglophones – moved back to our home province that it struck us how little we knew about how to ‘adult’ in our own language. As we transferred our mortgage, our insurance, our car loan and other details to institutions in our new home province, we were lost when they spoke of things like ‘lines of credit’, loans, savings plans or even ‘ATMs’ (which we still refer to as the ‘guichet automatique’).

We had learned all that terminology in French. There seemed to be a million new acronyms to learn! We felt as lost as a couple of teenagers. Well, I suppose that’s not quite true. We understood the concepts. As soon as we looked up the French translation, which happened frustratingly often, we were generally good to go. But we got quite a number of odd looks from people at the bank as one of us – very clearly an adult for a substantial number of years – turned to the other to ask what (insert French term here) was in English.

That’s the thing we don’t ‘get ’when we are first learning to ‘adult’. It is a never-ending process. You never really ‘graduate’ to adulthood. You just figure things out as you go.

And sometimes, just when you think you have it all figured out, you end up having to start all over again…

Source of photo

Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com


Author: Patti Moore Wilson, wednesdayschild2

I write what I feel. And I rarely know exactly what I feel until I write. I have lived long enough to have known many joys and many sorrows. I have made many mistakes; I have forgiven myself for a few… I have learned that there are lessons in every step of this journey, if we only take the time to pay attention… I hope you will feel free to pick and choose the stories that resonate for you…

10 thoughts on “Why Isn’t There an Instruction Manual for ‘Adulting’?”

  1. I have to admit that I despise adulting. Yeah, I’m an adult and I’ve learnt how to do it reasonably well on the premise that it’s all just common sense, but I sometimes just wish I could ignore all the adulty things and revert back to a time when I had no responsibilities and life was simpler. Stuff shouldn’t be so complicated, in my opinion. I’m with your daughter in that, I’m afraid. 😏💙 Still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh don’t get me wrong: I said I love the WORD adulting, not ACTUAL adulting 🤣🤣🤣 I think that’s the big joke: we ALL feel like little kids in an impostor’s body. And every teenager can’t wait to become OUR worst nightmare 🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️🤷‍♀️


  2. Funny. My middle son, now approaching 31, has some “adulting” issues, but our conversations, he reminded me, have now come full circle. You know, the young, fearless, politically-charged-save-the-world attitudes have dropped to second or third tier, after, will I have a place to live, what is essential, and will I have an income to carry me through this uncertain time. Your daughter may figure out adult life with your continued patience and example…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny, I have wondered so often at the older folks I know who were out on their own at 15, 16 years of age, making their way in a post-war, post Great Depression world. I see photos of young men who went to fight in WW II at the ripe age of 18, staring back at us with eyes as old as Methuselah. You are right: this pandemic has put so many things into perspective. There is the potential for so much good to come from this…🙏🙏🙏🤞


      1. Yeah I left home at 17 with a fierce need for independence. With hindsight I knew little about anything but they were the best years of my life. I wanted my kids to experience the same highs and lows and they all have to varying degrees. When the time’s right for them to properly settle down and become responsible home owners etc the stuff they do know already will stand them in good stead – they’re getting there already. I’m here for advice and they do ask a lot of questions, but it’s pleasing to me to see them figuring things out on their own too, isn’t it?

        My great uncle fought and died in WWII. He’s buried in France, in a cemetery not far from where my ex’s grandfather’s body lies. We’ve visited both graves and wandering around them both we were astounded at the amount of teenagers. It puts things into perspective…much as this pandemic has (for some people).

        Liked by 1 person

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