In my final year of University, I was 24 years old and living in residence. I befriended a 17 year old named Steve. During one of our frequent conversations, I had referred to myself as an adult. “You’ve got to be married and have kids and have your own house to be an adult,” he said. I was a bit offended, but, seeing what is happening in the culture today, I now see his point.
An increasing number of young adults (and some who aren’t so young) just haven’t grown up. They do not want to take on, or do not seem capable of taking on, the full compliment of adult responsibilities. Some of them have full time jobs but still live in mom’s basement. Others live on their own, but are unemployed or do not have “real” jobs. Others can’t make relationships work. Others are married, have jobs, live on their own but refuse to have children.
Please, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that just because someone fits into one of these categories that they are immature. There are many mature, responsible adults who live with their parents or are unmarried or do not have children or are unemployed. The type of individuals I’m referring to (and there seems to be many of them) are immature, and one of the ways they show it is by not taking on important adult responsibilities.
What is the root cause of this growing problem? I think that there is much less pressure on young people to grow up than there was in previous generations. Today, it is socially acceptable to be sexually active without being married (that used to be a lot more difficult). It is also socially acceptable to be married and use contraception or even abortion to avoid having children. Finally, it is much more acceptable today to be unemployed and “living off the system” than it was not so many years ago.
People in earlier generations usually had to grow up fast. They often spent only a few years in school and had to do a lot work around the home or on the farm. They were conscripted into the army and many of them went to war. They usually married at a much earlier age and quickly had children. There was very little government help in the form of unemployment insurance, disability benefits, welfare or pensions. These people wanted something better for their children and, during the affluent post-war decades, they gave their children a very comfortable, relatively easy life.
I was part of that generation. Many of us did mature, work fairly hard, and take on adult responsibilities, but many of us did not, largely because we weren’t forced to. It’s a lot easier to get away with being immature today, so a growing number of people are choosing to do so. This is alarming and problematic in many ways; however, from the spiritual point of view it is most dangerous. Traditional Catholicism teaches that only through sacrificial love, personal denial, discipline and effort can someone achieve holiness. Holiness demands maturity. I know that Jesus called us to be like little children, but that was a call to be more child-like (innocent), not more childish (immature).
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13:11-12).