Learning How to Adult, from my Kids

Learning How to Adult, from my Kids

Have you ever found yourself wondering how to adult? I just finished a book called Your Turn: How to be an Adult. I've been working on a campaign with the publisher, and even had the chance to speak with the author! You may recognize Julie Lythcott-Haims as a wildly-famous TED speaker. She also authored Real American and the New York Times bestsellerHow to Raise an Adult.

I’m proud to partner with Julie Lythcott-Haims on the launch of Your Turn: How to Be an Adult. Julie's latest book is what I'd call “unprescriptive.” She recognizes that there's no set number of steps that go into raising or being an adult. It's a series of life experiences that have similarities across families.

At the heart of the matter is the idea that we all want to love and be loved. What that looks like, in terms of how to adult? That involves people accepting their own life path. For parents, learning how to adult means recognizing individuality. Parents must recognize our unique gifts, as well as our kids.

Sometimes, those recognitions happen in reverse.

My wife and I both come from backgrounds with generational trauma. As a result, we've struggled quite a bit with figuring out how to adult and stepping into the role of parents. My father was raised by an alcoholic mother and a father that abandoned him for a new family. My dad did his best, but didn't have much positive history to draw from.

On top of that, it's worth mentioning that my genetics are large and in charge. I'm 6'4″ and 300-something pounds. As a result, I've been stereotyped with an incorrect image of masculinity and manhood my entire life. That only intensified when I became an NCAA Division 1 athlete and then a law enforcement officer.

Peers typecast me as a “jock,” expecting me to fall into the role of less intelligent, less sensitive meathead concerned only with sports. Nobody cared to see that I was just a big kid who truly loved chick flicks, cooking, and whose favorite book was Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. I identified with Mr. Darcy.

I was wildly underprepared for adulthood; raised in a family that was unwaveringly loving, but singularly-focused on daily survival. The idea of exploring holistic whole-self fulfillment and expression took a backseat to… ya know… putting food on the table. That was fine with me, as a kid. I found a certain cadence, and even inherent benefits to packaging myself up in a tidy bow that was easily-digestible for the world.

Then, my oldest son started having behavioral issues in the classroom. I believe this is the moment where things in my life truly diverged from past to future. I had the luxury of time and finances that allowed me to embark on a journey to determine the underlying causes of my son's difficulty.

I knew that this tiny, multifaceted preschooler was NOT the problem. Rather, his environment was setting off aggression and anger. It caused some inherent stirring in him that came from a critical sense of self. We needed to recognize where the disconnect was occurring between his inner desires, and his outer actions.

Deep dives with doctors and therapists uncovered something that surprised all of us. We found that my son had inherited a learning disability… from me. A learning disability that I'd struggled with – undiagnosed – my entire life.

I'd always known that I interacted with the world a bit differently than other people. Teachers had often remarked about my quirks. My wife had explained to me (and to the occasional bewildered friend) that I have a “special way of communicating.” People would say that I was “blunt,” “had a strange sense of humor,” or – on more than one bewildering occasion – they'd say I was downright rude.

I certainly never meant to be hurtful, but I didn't understand social cues. The pace of group settings was bewildering. Sarcasm went right over my (extremely literal) head. With this stunted, narrow viewpoint, learning how to adult for me meant seeking high levels of success to gain acceptance in spite of my differences.

Nobody had ever put a name to any of this, until my son came along. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, it turns out, is the unique lens through which he and I both see the world.

My OCD gives me a unique focus and talent in certain areas, but also causes exceptional difficulties in interpersonal relationships, the workplace, and many necessary tasks. My version of “how to adult” is accompanied by all the typical stuff that people think of. I have a partner, kids, a home, a job… but I've had to work hard to function within societal structures that don't resonate properly with my brain.

It's also worth mentioning that my family is Chickasaw. One massive saving grace during this time has been the support and unwavering acceptance of our tribe. We try to honor that heritage with our daily actions, but that comes with its own unique challenges. Most people's stereotypical idea of Indians doesn't  include blonde-haired, blue-eyed boys.

It's particularly tricky when you struggle to develop a sense of identity, and others loudly reject it. All of these experiences eventually led to our decision to retire early, leave California, homeschool, and travel half the year. But that's all a story for another day.

I'd say these issues have been parallel experiences that have truly “raised me” and marked my slow transition to adulthood. For me, learning how to adult has been about approaching others – and myself – with grace, kindness, and an eagerness to understand that this path is as varied as the individuals who walk it.

This is the point in my life where Julie Lythcott-Haims' Your Turn: How to be an Adult came in. Julie taught me that figuring out how to adult is different for everyone. For me, it's about trying to find my path in the midst of guiding children. For others, it's about walking away from painful pasts, creating a new family, finding or leaving religion, developing a niche within a community, quitting a career, or establishing groundbreaking businesses that fulfill lifelong goals.

For all of us, it's truly about living authentically.

That's what I really appreciate about Julie's book. Her style of interviewing other people shares so many differing perspectives. It shows that no matter who you are or what point you're at in figuring out how to adult, you can always use a little guidance.

Ultimately, I would love for my boys to know that they can love how, when, and what they want. By the time they're young adults, I hope they're well-aware that the pressure everyone else places on them can be set aside. That MUST be left in their wake! I want them to know that strength is something that isn't physical, but mental as well, and it should be strived for as equally as compassion.

I can only truly teach them those things by embracing those fundamentals myself. Slow down, listen. Watch and learn and treat others the way you'd like to be treated. Recognize that you are capable, and you are boundless with regard to expectations. Embrace higher concepts, paying attention to your impact on others.

If you do those things, you'll wind up being a strong, confident empathetic adult.

What more could anyone ask for as they raise themselves and impact future generations?

Do you feel like you've got a good handle on how to adult?