Sometimes there are rituals and ceremonies to mark major life events. Perhaps you’ve graduated college or gotten married. You get to see a change has happened because there is a celebration. Or there are other milestones. You’ve gotten your first “real” job. You’ve moved out on your own. You no longer need a cosigner for credit applications.
In certain African cultures, women are marked when they reach certain points in their lives. For example, you can tell who is married and who has had a child for instance by looking at the scars on their bodies. We don’t have such visible markings in the West. Our changes are internal. The only external mark might be a wedding ring, and not even that guarantees that you are an adult.
I became an adult when my parents died. We had a next door neighbor who was at least 70 years old. I was instructed to call her Mrs. Miles when I was growing up. When my parents died, I started calling her by her first name, Margaret. I didn’t even think twice about it. She didn’t correct me either. To call someone by their first name is to say you are equals. Previous to my parent’s death, we weren’t equals. But now we were. I’d gone through a trial by fire and come through (mostly) intact. We both agreed that I had changed.
However, my brother never got the message that I was an adult. He kept treating me as lesser. I was his little sister and he was determined to “keep me in my place.” It didn’t matter to him that I was 25, and had taken care of our Mom the whole time she was sick, and had handled the entire estate on my own. To him, I was lesser and would always be. In reality, he was treating me as lesser to make himself feel better. He was pushing me down to raise himself up. He couldn’t accept the reality that his “kid” sister had done all the hard work and he’d run away from any responsibility. I’d proven I was an adult, and he’d proven he was a coward.
I refused to let him treat me as a child, and I still refuse it. I refuse to allow him or anyone to treat me in a disrespectful manner. If it means that the relationship has to be severed because of that, so be it. Life is too short to let people treat you like a doormat. Part of being an adult is putting a value on yourself and not letting anyone bid any lower than what you are worth. To let someone treat you badly is to tell them that is OK.