First Things First: Yes, adulting is hard, but with responsibility comes freedom

sad woman in depression and despair crying on black dark background
sad woman in depression and despair crying on black dark background
photo Julie Baumgardner

Throughout her teenage years, she often dreamed about what life would be like when she became an adult. The idea of staying up as late as she wanted, doing what she wanted when she wanted to do it and not answering to anybody in authority over her made her want to fast-forward to "that" day.

Then it happened. She was out on her own. Rent, renters insurance, utilities, groceries, a car payment, car insurance, gas, an unexpected tire purchase, doctor visits and more were staring her in the face. This was not at all what she had in mind all those years ago when she dreamed about being out on her own.

She grabbed her phone and texted her parents: "#adultingishard. I don't like all this pressure. What happened to my paycheck?"

No doubt you have seen some of the "adulting is hard" comments on social media:

  • Coffee, because adulting is hard.
  • Adulting is hard. I don't get a reward when my bedroom is clean.
  • I stay up really late for no reason. Adulting is hard.

According to Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a research professor of psychology and author of "Emerging Adulthood," this young adult is not alone. Many in their 20s find "adulting" difficult, which tends to create a bit of anxiety for parents who are ready for their adult children to take on more responsibility.

In his book, Arnett discusses "emerging adulthood" as a new life stage between adolescence and actual adulthood - 30 is the new 20. The 20s have become a period of exploration and instability where they are trying out all kinds of things before settling down.

For those in their 20s, about 40 percent move back home with their parents at least once, and they go through an average of seven jobs. Arnett contends that emerging adulthood is a worldwide phenomenon.

Parents who are excited to see their young adults launch wonder what happened.

Things have changed! Adulthood is now viewed with a lot of ambivalence. Once you commit, you are there for the rest of your life. The social, cultural and economic conditions have changed a lot. Fifty years ago, entering adulthood was viewed as a big achievement. People looked forward to the stability adulthood provided. Now, 50 years later, people don't look at adulthood in the same way. They see it as stagnation. They think their parents don't do interesting things anymore. Adulthood doesn't look very fun.

If you are reading this and freaking out a bit, breathe. According to Arnett's research, these emerging adults eventually take on adult responsibilities. It's just a bit later than perhaps you expected.

What can you do to be helpful?

Part of the reason adulthood feels so overwhelming is because for many, they literally go from having everything done for them, and paid for, to feeling like they are doing it all on their own. Maybe things wouldn't seem so scary if young adults took on more responsibility over time versus in one fell swoop.

Anybody who is currently adulting can testify that it is hard, but there is a lot of freedom, adventure, challenges and fun that come with this stage of life. Perhaps there is a takeaway for those in this stage as well. If young people think those living in adulthood seem stagnant and boring, perhaps it is time for those who are actually adulting to show that responsibility, accountability and commitment don't necessarily equal a dull, stress-filled life. There are many who will testify that living in the adult season of life allows for a lot of freedom to establish who you are and how you want to live life.

The young lady who dreamed about the freedoms of adulthood, in reality, wasn't that far off. People think that freedom equals no responsibility, but in truth these responsibilities are what give you freedom.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Contact her at

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