Adulthood: One Size Fits All?

I was filling out a form the other day, and had to select an age category. Here were the choices: infant, toddler, adolescent, teenager, and adult. And I wondered, is that all there is? They break down the first twenty-one years into four stages, but after that, we get one?

Guess we’re all the same after age twenty-one. No need to make distinctions based on the amazing, challenging, heartbreaking, inspiring, devastating, and empowering stages during the sixty-some years many of us are blessed to live, once we reach “adulthood.”

I disagree, and propose we assign four categories of adulthood, based on emotional development/wisdom/maturity rather than a number.

  • YOUNG ADULT, when you’re just getting started in your independence.
  • MIDDLE ADULT, when you’re more settled and your life seems on a path (you think so, youngster, but ha ha! Just wait.)
  • GROWN ADULT, when you’re past child rearing or nearing retirement/menopause/independence/scary new changes. Now you’re all up in the air again, trying to figure out the second half.
  • SENIOR, when you’re pretty sure of yourself again. Hopefully you’re now feeling settled and wise.

Dr. Bill ThomasDr. Bill Thomas suggests there are two phases of the adult stage: adulthood and elderhood. He’s a geriatrician, one of only six thousand in the USA at present. (Yes, I’m worried about that number, too.) But anyway, he started out as an OB/GYN guy, and says he’s so lucky to have had a career that began with welcoming little humans into the world, and now helping them when it’s time to leave.

Here’s a wonderful TED talk he did about the categories thing, called Elderhood Rising. Isn’t that a great title? He makes so many great points. Here’s one:  society – and that includes us – judges older people against the standard set by youth. The more we’re like THEM, the more value we have. So if we’re not STILL driving or waterskiing or climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, we “are disappeared,” Dr. Bill says. The video is about twenty minutes, so if you’re in a hurry, skip to the halfway point and you’ll get the gist.

So, what do you think of my proposed categories, and where do you think you fit? And BTW, have a happy Valentine’s Day next Thursday. See you on Friday.


  1. says

    Great talk Lynn. I find that I am breaking down elderhood even more because I have been called early old. This from those in their eighties and nineties. Maybe we should find labels for each decade of our life.

  2. says

    Our lives seem to be described and defined by stages of development – and I like that into adulthood because we, hopefully, keep developing. I like the categories you’ve listed – I think I’d change “grown adult” to , mature or seasoned adult. Because we’re always growing- lagtely more around the middle is the growing I’m noticing – suddenly I look like I remember my grandmother looking – skinny legs and stout through the middle.
    Or, I don’t know, in my case – at 55 – a confused adult. Seriously. Menopause, last of my kids having just left the nest, a new grandbaby, another on the way, feeling some aches and seeing more wrinkles, aging parents who may soon need help and yes, looking at a second half of life and redefining or reassessing.
    Yes, that’s it – I’d change Grown Adult to Confused Adult. 😉

    Happy Valentines Day to you too Lynne

    • says

      I like it, Barbara. For sure we grow until we die, if we’re sentient and curious. I always wonder, where does all that knowledge go? Death seems like such a waste. But about the middle still growing…I chase after one or both grandbabies most days of the week, and I can eat about anything and not gain. But oh, man, do I ache.

  3. Arlee Bird says

    I think the categories depend on what you’re doing with them. I agree with yours, but I can also see the viability of Bill’s.

    I’ve been doing a series on my memoir blog Wrote By Rote that proposes we have 4 stages of life for the purpose of writing memoir. Those are Infant/preschool developmental years, school days, the adult years of career/family, and the senior/retirement years. From my standpoint I guess I fall more into Bill’s school of thought. But I’d definitely subcategorize the adult years as you describe them.

  4. says

    My mother’s cousin, Helen, remarried at the age of 90. She’s had 7 happy years with her new husband, and how did he celebrate his 100th birthday? He went sky diving! We have the video. His hundred year old jowls flapping in the wind, having the time of his life. Helen flew the plane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.