How to be an adult?


Former desparate mom
In one of difficult child's many tirades yesterday, he finally said that he doesn't know how to be a grown up and he is scared that he won't ever know how.

So how do you think you could explain adulthood to someone who is lacking the subtlety of language and misses non verbal language?

For most of us, it's a gradual assumption of responsibility and independence. It's a modeling of behavior. I think it is a natural drive to be an adult. difficult child is missing most of this.

Any suggestions of how to get a kid in an adult body to grasp the concept and learn how to be an adult in a concrete, step by step set of directions?


Active Member

I don't have any answers or ideas but I sure will be watching this thread for reference material...



Well-Known Member
Well, at least he recognizes it. How does he define adulthood? I think that is where you need to start. He feels he is not there yet - so he must have a concept of adulthood.

I am sure a difficult one to describe to him - sending you all the wisdom you will need to help your difficult child.


Well-Known Member
Here's a definition from the Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary:


n 1: the period of time in your life after your physical growth has stopped and you are fully developed [syn: maturity] 2: the state (and responsibilities) of a person who has attained maturity.

I would think maturity has something to do with having the ability and resourcefulness to meet one's own needs and obligations. Examples:

Being able to get and prepare food
Being able to fill out paperwork and meet deadlines (bills, social services, lease, etc)
Understanding the importance of integrity
Being able to prepare & gather the things necessary to do a job:
- having an appropriate outfit or uniform
- leaving with enough time to get there on time
- calling ahead if you are to be late
Being able to budget so that necessities are paid for first (food, shelter, utilities, basic clothing, insurance, medication)
Understanding you can't just walk away if you have responsibility in a situation

And the list goes on!


timer lady

Queen of Hearts

In my mind, correct me if I'm wrong, difficult child has already learned some adult concepts. Driving comes to mind, travel on his own. Let difficult child know some of the positives that he has achieved.

The higher level (checkbook, paying bills) may be a tougher concept to grasp, along with the ability to use self control. What will motivate difficult child to learn to overcome his fears & learn the skills necessary?

Has difficult child ever used an Integrated Listening Systems (ILS) (independent living skills) or transition to adulthood counsellor? If not, something possibly to consider.

I know Integrated Listening Systems (ILS) workers have very specific plans for each client & the plus side is it wouldn't be you trying to teach this stuff. Sometimes, it just works better coming from someone other than mom or dad.

Sorry I couldn't give you a checklist. Don't think any such thing exists. We as a group may need to come up with one for our little wonders.


New Member
This is a great topic. The subject matter is something I think of do we prepare our difficult children for an independant life?

I so worry about mine...she has the ability to do all the things necessary. I just hope she doesn't alienate herself from the rest of society. Living life *alone* would really suck.


chocolate lover

New Member
This is a great topic, so appropriate for all of us parents, but particularly for parents of difficult children.
I agree with Timer Lady - he has started on this process already. Encourage him with what he has done independently and applaud him for WANTING to be an adult! So many people don't want to be one!
I liked TM's definition and list.
I don't have any good lists, but would think adulthood means being able to work, cook, drive, pay your bills, and knowing how to have a good relationship with other people. It may involve marriage and a family which is another set of responsibilities.
Our difficult children, like everyone else, needs to learn these things, but in steps.
It sounds like you have begun this process with difficult child and he has worked hard at it. He worked this summer, goes to school, and has gone on trips alone. Since the verbal is a problem, maybe you could break tasks down into written steps: Recipes to follow, written instructions on how to pay a bill, write a check, etc. Then show him these things, too, so that he gets the written and the non-verbal together. I'm sure you've done some of these things already, but maybe that would help to just break things down into tasks.
You and husband have been good role models in these things in the past - difficult child has seen this and has learned from you. He is expressing a concern and interest in being mature - more than many young adults do! He is to be commended!
I'll be watching, too, for more ideas! We need help in this department in our household, too!
chocolate lover


member since 1999

What is difficult child's definition of being an adult? Just wondering if he's set up this ideal that cannot be achieved by anyone.

I remember waiting for an "ah-ha" moment, something concrete that would signify official adulthood. Felt for years I was play acting - still do sometimes, truth be told. I think for some young adults, "adulthood" is kind of a let down. :wink: Does that make sense?

Being an adult isn't the end goal. It's an evolution. You're not the same adult you were at 21. Becoming an adult isn't going to end difficult child's (or anyone's) struggles. It's ongoing problem solving, which I know isn't difficult child's strong suit, but as an outsider I look at what he's accomplished in the last two years, Fran, and I can't help but be hopeful for what is in his future. It's been challenging, and you've had to lurk in the background to make sure things are going in the right direction, but he didn't quit and he's kept plugging away. I guess *that's* being adult, in my book.

The prospect of being "responsible" can be daunting for a lot of people - I think of my beloved brother who was on the seven year plan at college. :wink: I'm probably way off, but I think difficult child needs to understand that everyone gets anxious, that there is no carved in stone definition of "adult", and that he has done a good job of continuing to stretch his abilities.

hearts and roses

Mind Reader
It sounds like he's on his way at least - and the fact that he recognizes this time in his life as transitional is wonderful, really.

This is a really good topic as just like everyone else, I've always had concerns about my difficult child being able to tow the line, regarding adulthood: being self sufficient, self supporting and being able to interact with others without the constant voice in her head telling her she's "doing it wrong".

I have come to expect that there will always be aspects of life in which my difficult child will be slower than the norm, and then others wherein she strives to be ahead of the gang - not always the right ways and that's where our guidance and faith comes in.

I can't wait to see what others offer as tips on this topic!


Former desparate mom
This is a thread in General Archives for those of you whose children are still young.
This is where I try to focus my energy. I think a copy for difficult child may help:

Transform Triumphant recommended a book to me that really struck a chord.
It is called : Quirky Kids:Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In-When to Worry and When Not To Worry
by Perri Klass MD, and Eileen Costello, M.D.

I, of course went to the chapter on post high school and young adults(which as usual is a bit meager). These words were helpful to me, in trying to see the post high school picture for a parent of a quirky child.
I know that parenting an older difficult child is different but it is hard to anticipate in what way it is different and how to change my goal setting, approach and level of involvement. This chapter broke it down into some quick simple goals to understand and help difficult child work on. .
Hope this strikes you as it has struck me.

" Our main message about adult life, to which we will return again and again in this chapter, is this: On the one hand, adult life poses certain specific challenges-which, for some quirky kids, are especially difficult and, for some few, frankly impossible:

-To live independently and care for yourself

-To hold a job and support yourself

-To maintain the human relationships you need to make you happy.

These are tall orders, and not just for the quirky; they are the stuff of lifetime goals and internal struggles and a great deal of help seeking for many people. However, adult life offers considerably more scope for quirkiness than the rigid everybody-needs-to-be-good-at-everything sociology of childhood. Quirky adults can shape their worlds to fit themselves,choosing niches and platforms and hiding places and stages from an almost infinitely vast array of possibilities. Your job with your quirky child was at times to bend and rearrange his school so that his life fit better on his back. His job as an adult is to choose the work and the home and the social lives that fit him best and in which he functions most happily and most fully.

These are the points identified,by the authors, to living independently.

1.Food: Every quirky adult should know how to prepare a few basic items and most important,know how to buy, store and prepare the things that he really likes to eat and drink regularly. If you know how to scramble an egg, construct your favorite kind of sandwich,make the kind of coffee you most like to drink, and prepare two or three of your favorite easy dinners,your ready for your diploma

2. Money: Make sure your child knows how money is transferred and stored(checks,cash cards,debit cards,credit cards) and make sure she has some sense of relatives sums. In other words,she should understand that spending ten dollars on a whim, or lending it to someone you know only slightly, is different from doing that with a thousand dollars. Explain how different bills are paid--the rent with a check left in the landlord's mailbox, the phone bill on line and so on. If she is going to have access to a credit line--either through credit cards or through a bank account cash reserve--make sure she understands that these debts accumulate interest at a high rate.

3.Medical care: Figure out how your child will get his health insurance. There's no easy answer to this(although anyone with a severe disability of any kind ought to be eligible for any of several programs)but it's not something that can safely be left up to most young adults,since the medical insurance world is a maze of confusing options, and most young adults believe they're immortal

4. Special medical care;Does your child know whom to call if her problems act up? If her medication stops working or starts to produce funny side effects? Be sure she's connected in all the ways she needs to be but shift some of the responsibility for making and keeping appointments to her, if she's ready.

5.Maintenance:Whom do you call when the toilet won't flush or the stove burner won't light or the wall starts to crumble? Well, many of us can remember calling our parents! Be available for consultations, but also make sure your child has a little basic grounding in changing a light bulb or tightening a loose screw.

6. Logistics of Daily life: Opening a bank account,registering to vote,renewing a driver's license---all of these are hard to figure out the first time around. Once again, quirky kids ane the young adults they become often have a harder time figuring out even the things that come naturally to other people. The more you can help them break life down into manageable tasks and then get through those tasks, the easier it will be for them to keep safe, functional, and well connected.

You may not like the way your adult offspring lives. You may be troubled or sad or mildly disgusted. [Roll Eyes] at the arrangements he makes for himself, at the state of his kitchen or bathroom, or his junk food dependence, or the rag he calls a bathrobe. For the most part keep quiet about these things. Yes, you need to be there as a back up and resource and refuge,and you're certainly entitled to your opinion. But when your child starts to live independently as an adult, give her some space. Stand back a little--harder for parents who know their children often have a more difficult time. But independence is independence. As long as there doesn't seem to be anything unsafe about the situation, you need to let your child make these adult attempts and explorations.


Well-Known Member

I would also second slsh's post. Then I would gently remind him "difficult child you are already an adult".
I would like to try to put some thoughts out there, using my difficult child, as an example (I hope you don't mind).

My difficult child went through school with an Learning Disability (LD) in written expression, had terrible non-verbal skills and has a somewhat low IQ. As I state in my profile, I think she is on the Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) spectrum, but we never completed the testing at the regional center, because the BiPolar (BP) diagnosis was coming to light, as well. When she moved out with b/f, she couldn't do much for herself. She couldn't read directions on a box to cook things, she didn't know how to use the bus system, she couldn't write a check to pay bills.

Since she left our house rather quickly, I was sure she would have troubles in these areas, but she has improved significantly. How??? She went into survival mode. She calls us several times a day, but she is learning .... slowly.

She writes a check for her rent/bills, but has yet to comprehend "how" to balance a checkbook. Instead, she calls the bank to get her balance :rolleyes: . I have to continually explain that the bank's balance does not include any checks she has written that haven't cleared yet ... but she HAS learned how to write her bills and deduct them from her account. Is your difficult child good on a computer??? Maybe he could learn to do his banking online for most things. This seems to work better for some people, rather than writing checks.

Driving - - - . Ok, that will never happen with my difficult child. It is quite :panic: . So ... she has learned how to use the bus system. She now goes to the mall, the stores, etc, along with her b/f in the wheelchair. They have become quite resourceful. If your difficult child has obtained a driver's license, he is well ahead of the game, as far as independence.

As for employment ... my difficult child is in a different position than other people (she has an insurance settlement and gets monthly $$, so she doesn't work - - although she did through school for awhile). Is your difficult child able to work?? I see he is going to school, so maybe work isn't in the picture yet. Holding down a job is obviously a big part of becoming an adult.

Preparing meals - - that was a tough on for my difficult child, but she is finally getting it. She called me last night because she was making a mousse (I don't even make mousse). Anyway - she did the whole thing wrong (forgot to bake the crust or something). She was so upset and I told her to try again and she called back so happy that it turned out. Trial and error. These days, we have microwaves to help those that don't cook well. How does he do in this area??

I guess my "longwinded" point to the story is ... there are ways to accommodate the essential life skills - - work, food, bill paying, transportation - - and once they are presented in a fashion that our difficult child's can grasp, they will feel more confident in being on their own.

My difficult child wouldn't have anything to do with learning these skills while she was living at home. It wasn't until she moved out and "had" to do these things, that she learned. Day by day, she is becoming more comfortable - - - becoming an adult. But she is still way behind the others in maturational age. She is more like a 13-14 y/o playing house, but at least she continues to learn new life skills. It's a work in progress that will probably continue until she is 30 or 35 or ....

Oh, one last thought - - - the other part that is scary for a young person is being out on their own, literally. I see he is staying in a dorm right now, but what are his thoughts once he is done with school? Does he have a friend that would live with him? Or maybe apply to rent a room somewhere? My difficult child would never live alone in a million years - - it scares her. I would imagine this is an issue for many young people. Personally, I couldn't wait to get the h*ll out of Dodge at 17, but that's me. :laugh:

I've talked long enough - - - I hope some of what I said above was remotely helpful.



The book that was quoted from provides good information. I am still curious as to what your kid considers adulthood.

I think if you are going to try to help him grasp the concept and learn how to be an adult by providing concrete, step by step set of directions; you will need to know exactly what he feels he should be and not someone else's definition.


scent of cedar

New Member
I agree with Corky that there is much good advice here for any parent as a child approaches independence.

Especially the parts about how we don't get to judge them, their housekeeping standards or their bathrobes.

THAT is the part I have to learn.



New Member
Becoming an adult is a progression...even through "adulthood." I remember in my early 20's when I was walking across a parking lot to pay may rent thinking that from that point forward I would always have to pay my rent and all my other bills. It was a scary realization but a necessary one. I thank God that my mom tought me to pay my bills on time. Graduation from college was another of those AH-HA moments. Child birth, especially after the second one. Now teaching my step-daughters to cook and clean, etc... The progression never stops but can be overwhelming especially for a difficult child. Have him list the "adult" things he is already doing. Then have him set a goal to achieve one ar two more with written plans on how to achieve the goal. Don't let him focus on too many at once or he will be to overwhelmed to progress.

Good Luck and for both of you.


Active Member
I remember clear as day the number of times difficult child 1 would say how he doesn't want to grow up, he doesn't want to be an adult. Lo and behold...he became one. Baby was fussy recently, he figured out the diaper needed to be changed. This is a great thread.



Another slant on this is "adulthood" for the non-difficult child is more and more delayed. Many "normal" 25 year olds do not consider themselves "real" adults. It is unclear what they think they are because they also do not think of themselves as "kids" or adolescents.

The clearest indicator of "adulthood" (meaning you can get the highest number of people to agree on a survey) is "parenthood." This is not usually a comforting idea to the difficult child's parents. Life is so difficult for even the non-challenged, that many give up and live at home with their parents. While this works for a while, it impairs growing if it continues for years in my opinion.

I agree with everyone else--I think your difficult child has made a lot pf progress toward adulthood already. Perhaps he holds an unrealistic standard in his head that is fueling his anxiety. I also agree with the trial and error method. Sometimes I worry about my easy child even tho' at some level I know that is ridiculous. However, there are many practical things she has never bothered to learn how to do. I figure she will learn really quickly when the time comes. I know the comparison may be lame because she has nothing preventing her from learning but lack of motivation for the mundane. However, necessity and experience are great teachers--for difficult child and not so difficult child alike.


I wasn't really sure I was an adult until I was about 30 so your difficult child has lots of time by my standards.
Originally posted by Martie:
[qb] The clearest indicator of "adulthood" (meaning you can get the highest number of people to agree on a survey) is "parenthood."
Many people may think this but I have proof that this is NOT true. GFG25 has a difficult time even coping with parenthood. All we can really do is prepare them for "survival" in the adult world. Looking at TM's list again:

I would think maturity has something to do with having the ability and resourcefulness to meet one's own needs and obligations. Examples:

Being able to get and prepare food
Being able to fill out paperwork and meet deadlines (bills, social services, lease, etc)
Understanding the importance of integrity
Being able to prepare & gather the things necessary to do a job:
- having an appropriate outfit or uniform
- leaving with enough time to get there on time
- calling ahead if you are to be late
Being able to budget so that necessities are paid for first (food, shelter, utilities, basic clothing, insurance, medication)
Understanding you can't just walk away if you have responsibility in a situation

And the list goes on![/QUOTE]

difficult child 25 is able to do some of these like shopping and preparing food. At times she is able to manage the paperwork and is usually pretty good about her budget, but isn't always able to maintain these things. The things related to a job and responsibility are major problems for her. She will even wait until the last minute to find babysitters and then call whining to me because she can't find anyone. The pressures of a job cause her to have frequent emotional meltdowns both on the job and at home.

Sadly, I blame myself for some of this. I know that her illness affects her abilities to a large degree but I feel as though I failed her in many ways by enabling her to be dependent on me. For instance, she is supposed to be working on her disability claim. This is proving to be a daunting task for her. My initial instinct and what I would have done in the past is to jump in there and do it for her. Rather than deal with her emotional tirades, I always stepped in and did things when I knew she was overwhelmed by them. Another example is the fact that I just jumped in and started caring for my grandson rather than forcing her to take responsibility. Now I am having to change that.

As parents of minor children, we have to learn to guide them and then back off. As my counselor told me, we are doing our children no favors when WE use their illness as an excuse for their difficulties and therefore do too much for them. The true act of love is to make them take on these basic responsibilities so that they can learn them.

Dang! Where was all this information when GFG25 was young? Those of you raising children now are so much better off than we were because they have come so far with the diagnosing and treatment of these disorders. I had none of that. All I had was a diagnosis of ADD and then I was left to figure it out on my own without the luxury of the internet to find recourses and support.


Former desparate mom
Martie, by comparison, I thought of myself as an adult by 16.
As always I only hope to see small steps toward progress but my son has never done it this way. He will make no progress for years then just leap forward in a burst of maturity.

His requirements for adulthood seem to be tied up with jobs and money. This is relatively new since he learned to be a shopaholic with his living allowance at school. (shades of my mother send shivers down my spine)

He agrees and admits that he thinks he will do more when he is on his own. :rolleyes: I admit to being skeptical but I am more than willing to give him the chance.

He can not move back home. If he doesn't have a job and friends he is doomed to a level of dysfunction that he doesn't need to sink to at this point. He wants more out of his life than the predictions and I will try to help him get there but he makes it so darned hard by being oppositional. He isn't being likeable this week but to give him his due.
He apologized and explained the reasons for his over the top reactions. He knows that he is doing this but seems to have a difficult time derailing his thinking.

I remember the good things that he does but he can at times suck all the energy out of the family. I suspect that none of us is willing to go back there again.


Former desparate mom
I'm a big fan of birth control for dysfunctional difficult children. I have been fortunate that difficult child seems to have a level of awareness that makes him realize that he will have difficulty being a parent at this point. He agrees with protection 100%.