Adulting is hard. For college students beginning to embark on a journey to independence, every small step — doing dishes, washing clothes — can feel like an accomplishment. Wanting to reward oneself for doing a basic task, however, begets a mindset that turns all the trappings of everyday life into a trite game. Doing so is unconstructive for young people since it perpetuates an attitude based on the avoidance of major responsibility by rewarding oneself for minor efforts.
The phenomenon of prolonged adolescence, much maligned by conservative media or by those who consider themselves traditional parents, is shown to have positive benefits. Young people now are often more educated, more skilled and better equipped to handle the changing circumstances of our modern society. Putting off getting married, buying a house and all the other hallmarks of traditional American adulthood actually translate to potentially better individual benefits down the line. But those things are big decisions, and are fundamentally different from the compulsive need to self-congratulate for something like eating a homemade grilled cheese instead of a store-bought one.
Unfortunately, the benefits come at a steep cost. Higher education and technical training, for example, does not come cheap. For every student burning toast in a university dorm room for the first time, there are hundreds more young people struggling to work to feed their families even in the United States. Childhood poverty has been increasing for the last few years, and financial disadvantages generally mean that children have to start doing their part at home much earlier.
This is a problem that is not just simply an attitude issue — it has real political ramifications as well. Having the privilege to cheerily mark off average household tasks every once in awhile is classist — these are tasks that those hovering below the comfortable middle-class tax bracket have had to deal with on a daily basis well before they turn 18. For a generation so invested in issues of income inequality, we need to start critically examining how our everyday activities stem from these inequities.
This is not to say that no one should ever be allowed to casually throw out the term adulting ever again — I still do this all the time, and asking people to compromise slang words for political reasons is needlessly extreme. It’s just that we need to understand the contexts of our own lives so that we are not undermining the lived realities of others. To build genuine class solidarity requires understanding, empathy and a willingness to acknowledge how wealth creates incredible disparities in comfort and quality of life, even in the mundane aspects of daily life. Nurturing a political conscience — and, as Carol Hanisch said, the personal is political — takes labor, but for this generation it should be a labor of love.
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