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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

42 Surprising Signs You’re Really, Finally a Grown-Up

Buying life insurance doesn't make you a grown-up, but uttering the phrase, "No, mom, how are YOU doing?" means you've probably arrived.

1 / 42

Calling your mom just to make sure she’s okay

For all of your early life your mother took care of you. By the time you’re 18, you may even resent some of her efforts, laughing when she sneaks extra socks into your camp bag, when she asks if you’re eating enough, and especially when she calls at 11 p.m. on a Friday night to make sure you’re okay because she “just had a feeling.” But at some point that switch subtly flips and you realize you’re the one calling her. You’re not sure if she saw the storm warning or if she remembered to pick up her medication or if she locked all the doors. When she asks why you’re checking up on her, you say it’s because you just had a feeling—and that feeling is called love. (These sweet short stories about moms will make you want to call yours.)

2 / 42

Buying your favorite treat for no reason

Remember how much work Halloween used to be? You had to craft the perfect costume, map out your route, and find a sturdy bag—not to mention all the many miles you had to trudge through your neighborhood. And all to get a handful of your favorite mini candy bars among a pile of Tootsie rolls and Smarties! Now, remember the day you realized you could go to the store any old day of the year and buy a bag of only your favorite treats and eat them all by yourself? (We won’t talk about the day you realized that just because you could didn’t mean that you should!)

3 / 42

Programming birthdays into your calendar

Your loved ones’ birthdays happen every year, so why not make them a recurring event on your calendar? And also, you have a lot of birthdays to remember now! (You might also want to steal these habits of people with impressive memories.)

4 / 42

Realizing you look like a creeper

Kids can do lots of things adults can’t normally get away with. Things like swimming naked, falling asleep in their food, wearing mismatched socks, and asking intrusive personal questions of strangers are adorable when tots do them but downright creepy for an adult. It takes only one time of getting caught sneaking through your neighbor’s backyard with a water gun at night to make you realize that you are now held to a more grown-up (if less fun) standard.

5 / 42

Being the first person to pick up the check

You could sit there and argue about whose turn it is to pay for dinner. Or you could pick up the check, divide it by four, and have your credit card ready before the waitress leaves the table. Math solves so many problems! (Should you still split the check if you ate way less than everyone else? Check out the etiquette for splitting a bill and other modern annoyances.)

6 / 42

Flying alone

Arriving on time, checking your luggage, getting your boarding pass, making it through security, finding your gate, and stashing your carry-on under the seat before the flight attendant tells you is basically the ultimate test of being an adult. You passed? Congratulations, now you get to spend several hours in a cramped seat next to a guy who forgot that bathing is also part of being a grown-up. (Bonus points for adding a car rental!) (Here are 14 things you should never do on an airplane.)

7 / 42

Having your social security number memorized

What need did you have for a Social Security number as a kid? None! But as a grown-up you’ve had to use it so many times that you’ve now got it memorized. You know you’ve reached peak adulthood when you’ve got your spouse’s memorized as well.

8 / 42

Embracing your title

The first time someone asks for Mrs. Jones and you don’t look around for your mom.

9 / 42

Attending parent-teacher conference

Contrary to popular belief, having a child doesn’t automatically make you a grown-up. But you know what will make you grow up quickly? Listening to your child’s kindergarten teacher explain that “the no-pants dance” is not a thing at school, and your child’s enthusiastic participation is all your fault.

10 / 42

Seeing your name on a bill

Who’s going to pay the electric bill? You are! Who’s going to cover the overages on the cell bill? You are! Who’s going to deal with the IRS? You again! And in case you forget, there’s your name on the front in black and white. Read these tips to save on every household bill.

11 / 42

Writing a eulogy or an obituary

Whether you’re memorializing a friend, remembering a coworker, or missing a parent, there’s something about having to sum up someone else’s mortal existence that makes you really consider your own. Part of being a grown-up is knowing that you should always go to the funeral, too.

12 / 42

Choosing a health insurance plan

There are many big firsts that come with your initial real job but perhaps none will remind you more of your impending aging than that packet of health insurance forms. What’s an HSA? An HMO? A network? It’s at that moment you realize that no one is going to figure this out for you, much less remind you to brush your teeth or eat your vegetables. Your health is all yours now, for better or worse!

13 / 42

Eating just the middle of a watermelon

As a kid, you had to eat all kinds of icky things purely because some grown-up wanted you to. Boiled veggies? Eat up. Bread crusts? Don’t waste them. Fish? Down the hatch! But there comes a day in every adult’s life when you realize that you can eat the pizza and leave the crusts or skip the salad course or never eat the heel of a loaf of bread ever again. And that is a beautiful day.

14 / 42

Asking a teen about their future plans

At Thanksgiving people always asked you how school was going. At Christmas, your family asked you about your latest love interest. At picnics, family friends gave you unsolicited advice about your career. And then one day, over a plate of turkey, you look at your niece’s glazed eyes as you ask what her plans are for the summer and realize that you’ve become that boring person pestering her about her future.

15 / 42

Forgetting your age

When you were born, you measured your life in weeks. During the first year of life, you measured your life in months and milestones. As a child, you could tell someone exactly how old you were, down to the quarter of the year. “I’m 9 and 3/4!” But one day you realize that not only do you not know how many months until your next birthday, but you no longer even remember how many candles will be on the cake (should anyone bother to bake one). Are you 37 this year? Or 38? And does it really matter?

16 / 42

Getting more pleasure out of getting someone a gift than in receiving one

Be honest: During the holidays, are you more excited to get everything on your wish list or to see your family’s faces when they open the perfect gift you picked out for them? If it’s the latter, congratulations on being a grown-up!

17 / 42

Buying travel insurance

College kids plan vacations all the time but only a true adult—who’s witnessed blizzards, missed connections, and food poisoning—will pay the extra cash for travel insurance.

18 / 42

Refusing to believe senior pictures on Facebook

How can those little kids with chubby cheeks and patchy facial hair be high school seniors? You were just in high school yourself and you were certainly more mature than this, right? As a college professor friend once said, “Every year the freshmen get younger and younger.”

19 / 42

Making a Christmas card spreadsheet

The downside: Having a Christmas card list is one of the most mocked aspects of adulthood. The upside: Not only do you now have so many friends, family, and loved ones that you need a computerized list, but you also have a life cool enough to warrant bragging about, er, sharing!

20 / 42

Signing a mortgage

Putting your signature on 3,000 pages of legalese says you’re either a competent grown-up or are good enough at faking it that major financial institutions and the government will trust you with a quarter-million dollars. Either way, it’s A moment.

21 / 42

Walking out of the hospital with a baby

Having a baby is one of the most surefire ways to define yourself as an adult. But it’s that moment when the nurse hands you that tiny human and just lets you walk out of the hospital like it’s no big deal that makes you realize how grown-up (and terrified) you really are.

22 / 42

Taking a class because it will help you in your job, not because it sounds cool

Many things are fun to do but not as many bring in a good paycheck—and nothing helps you realize that like paying your own money to register for a class. Sure, Modeling 101 sounds fun but signing up for Advanced Computer Data Modeling, not because it’s entertaining but because you need it for your job, is a sign of a true grown-up.

23 / 42

Checking LinkedIn more than Facebook

Being a grown-up means hoping for more hits on your resume than likes on your selfie. (But the best days are when you get both!)

24 / 42

Eating Brussels sprouts… and liking them

As a kid you couldn’t choke down the bitter vegetable but then you tried one carmelized with onions in a citrus-soy sauce and realized they’re actually pretty delicious, as are other “gross grown-up” foods like V-8 juice, mushrooms, sushi, and plain water. But don’t worry, no amount of aging can force you to like liver! Here’s how to eat more vegetables without even trying.

25 / 42

Voting for a candidate your parents hate

Stepping into a polling booth and making your mark as a citizen in your country is political proof you are an adult. Not only does it mean you are legally of adult age but it also means you care enough about the future and your society to try and change it. Bravo!

26 / 42

Making (and sticking to) a grocery list

When it comes to grocery shopping, picking up a few snacks is one thing, stocking a pantry is entirely another. Only a full-fledged grown-up can make a list, make their way through all the aisles, and check out without making more than three impulse buys. Challenge accepted!

27 / 42

Buying a vegetable you’ve never tried before

Artichokes? Golden beets? Kimchi? Not only are you down with trying weird new vegetables but as a grown-up you actually have the culinary skills to prepare them. Even better, when someone eats them and says you deserve a four-star Michelin rating, you know they’re not talking about tires.

28 / 42

Saying “I do” and “I don’t”

Up until your marriage, chances are your happiness has been your primary responsibility. Take your vows, however, and suddenly someone else’s happiness has to come first. It takes an adult to say “I do” to another person. But it takes a real adult to say “I don’t” when it comes to letting go and moving beyond your first fight.

29 / 42

Spoon-feeding yourself chicken soup

Nothing reminds you more of your own mortality and adulthood than coming down with the flu and having to get your own chicken soup and orange juice regardless of how awful you feel. Where’s mom when you need her? Oh, right. You’re the mom now. (Here are the best things to eat when you have the flu.)

30 / 42

Test driving a car

A driver’s license is the first step to independence. Nothing is more exhilarating than hopping in your car and taking a drive. But the adult stakes get even higher when you go to buy a car and the salesperson recognizes you as somone who has both the money to purchase a car and the wherewithal to test drive it without getting in an accident.

31 / 42
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Being identified as your child’s mom

It’s a major adult milestone to be a parent in the first place, much less be identified as “mom” or “dad.” But then the day comes when another child calls out, “Hey, Charlie’s mom” or “Hi, Sophie’s dad,” and you know you’re 100 percent legit. Not only are you the grown-up to your own kid, but you’re the grown-up to all kids.

32 / 42

Getting junk mail with your name on it

Getting mail as a kid is fun—because it’s always either a birthday card, a party invite, or the Lego catalog. Finding an appliance catalog in your box is grown-up enough, but to see your name on it? Not only do they think you have money but they think you want to spend it on a new washer… which you do, come to think of it.

33 / 42

Writing a practical wish list

You know you’re a grown up when someone asks you what you want for a gift and your immediate answer is “socks and undershirts.” You know you’re really a grown-up when you open those socks and undershirts and are genuinely excited about them.

34 / 42

You’re embarrassed about the spelling and grammatical errors in your texts

Teens text rapidly, trusting that whoever is on the other end will be able to figure out their random assortment of typos, autocorrects, acronyms, and emojis. Grown-ups do the same thing but feel compelled to text an apology afterward, mortified by an accidental “your” instead of “you’re.”

35 / 42

Buying your parents dinner

Not only are you the one with the cash, but now you know how come your dad used to get so mad when you’d insist on ordering the large steak only to declare you were full after three bites.

36 / 42

Wrapping presents at midnight

The eve before big holidays used to mean anticipation of magical creatures, treats, and presents. Now? You’re the one creating all the magic by wrapping the gifts, eating the reindeer carrots (whatever happened to Santa cookies?), or filling Easter baskets late into the night. And you couldn’t be happier about it.

37 / 42

Taking the scenic route

As a child, traveling was all about “Are we there yet?” As a teen it was “How fast can I get there?” But as an adult you realize the journey is as much of the vacation as the destination, and you can stop and see all the sights and take all the detours you want.

38 / 42

Giving weird compliments

You know you’re a grown-up when the most genuine compliment you can give someone is “I really love your garage doors!” or “You have the prettiest table!”

39 / 42

Calling your mom to ask for advice about poop

Moms have been doling out helpful advice as long as there have been moms. And kids have been ignoring it for as long as there have been kids. But one day you’ll see something strange in your own child’s diaper and realize you should have been paying a lot more attention. (Here are some of your weirdest pooping habits, explained by science.)

40 / 42

Being the designated adult

Many things require adult supervision: shooting BB guns, hiking in a canyon, water skiing, watching R-rated movies, middle school dances. And there is no weirder feeling than looking around for that wise adult and realizing that all the children are looking at you. Trade in your cannonballs for CPR; you’re the adult supervision now.

41 / 42

Having a “fancy” credit card

People are going to loan you money? So much so that they give you a card with thousands of dollars just waiting for you? And it even has your name on it? Now they’re just arriving daily in your mailbox? And they are for specialty things like traveling or warehouse memberships? What is this grown-up madness?!

42 / 42

Thinking you can’t possibly be a grown-up

The number one sign of being a grown-up? Thinking it could never happen to you. You will be assimilated!

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.