I was watching one of my brother’s baseball games over spring break when a parent asked me why I wasn’t living it up in Florida or Puerto Vallarta or some other tropical location with my friends. “Isn’t that what everyone does for spring break?” he said. “I remember going there in my college days. It must be pretty boring to come home.”
I replied that I look forward to coming home because I am so rarely at home. Being from California, I’m never able to go home on the weekends and only fly back about once a semester. For the past two summers, I’ve also lived away from home. I’ve spent a grand total of about four or five months at home over the past three years.
But the more reasons I listed, the more I was bothered that I felt the need to justify my wanting to spend spring break at home in the first place. The question had put me on the defensive because of its underlying implication: going home and spending time with family is “boring” and somehow “childish,” whereas going to a typical “spring breakers” location and spending time with people your own age is more “adult.”
This implication is problematic for several reasons. It is also worth exploring because it is indicative of a human phenomenon that manifests itself throughout different stages of life: the desire to dissociate ourselves from our families in order to seem like adults.
Think back to middle school when you might have asked your parents to drop you off a block from campus because you didn’t want to be seen with them. Or in high school when you tried to avoid having your prom date meet your whole family. Or when you were embarrassed by the jokes your parents made when they met your college friends. In all of these situations, you were trying to establish yourself as an individual — as a “cool” and mature individual — by disassociating yourself from your family.
To a certain extent, our tendency to do this makes sense; we are all trying to make our own ways in the world and develop our individual identities. This becomes particularly pertinent in college, when many of us begin to live independently of our families for the first time in our lives and take our first tentative steps into the murky region of adulthood.
I believe that college corresponds to what I’ve ever so precisely deemed the murky region of adulthood because it reveals both the “before” and the “after” of adulthood. College is incredibly freeing and exciting because we can keep our own hours and call our own shots and work to pave our own road for the future we want.
At the same time, college exposes us to the frightening thought that the protected independence of these years is fleeting, and we’ll soon be expected to earn our own income and create our own home and figure out how insurance works. And that’s when we’ll really be independent — that’s when we’ll really be adults.
In order to actually embrace the notion of adulthood, we must realize that we don’t have much time left as young adults. And sometimes that realization makes us want to go out and dance all night and spend as much time as we can with our college friends before we all move apart and construct separate lives. And that’s valid. We should do those things. We should be college students while we are.
Yet the realization that young adulthood is fleeting should lead us to cherish every opportunity we have to be with our families. After all, how much longer do we have to watch movies with our families on a Friday night, eat dinner as a unit, sleep in our childhood rooms?
When we graduate and begin working, we won’t have the same breaks and vacations that we now take for granted. We won’t have the same chances to go home for extended periods of time. We might even be in the process of forming our own families. All of this will inevitably change the relationships we currently have with our families, just as those relationships inevitably changed when we first came to college.
Adulthood, then, is not just about asserting our independence; it is also about recognizing our interconnectedness with and mutual dependence on others. Adulthood is not just about moving away from home; it is also about maintaining and strengthening our changing connections with home and to family after we leave. We do not become wholly autonomous adults merely by setting foot on a college campus — we are still young, we are still tied to our families and we shouldn’t be ashamed to embrace that.
EMILY HOEVEN is a College senior from Fremont, Calif., studying English. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Growing Pains” usually appears every other Tuesday.