How Do You Know When You’re Grown Up?

As the mother of five daughters, I have had no greater joy than watching my girls grow up into remarkable women. Sure I miss watching them take their first wobbly steps, struggling to master the pedals on a bicycle, and assembling shadow boxes for a 5th grade history project. But watching them grow up and leaving those childhoods behind has been my greatest joy.

Three weeks ago today, Madeline’s (23 year, old daughter #4) boyfriend Shawn was hit by a car while riding his bicycle. It was a hit-and-run accident and he has no memory of it until he woke up in the ambulance. His hip was badly fractured. He had minor spine fractures, numerous cuts and scrapes and a terrible road rash on his hip and leg that was about two feet long.  After being hospitalized following major surgery he came to our home to recover.

While Shawn was in the hospital, Madeline never left his side. She was able to be there non-stop. Her current state of unemployment turned out to be a huge blessing.

I have a friend who is a stage-four cancer survivor. She spent a lot of time in the hospital receiving treatments and even a got a stem-cell transplant. I remember her saying, “Never leave anyone in the hospital alone. Someone needs to stay with the patient, spending not just the days but especially the nights as an advocate for him or her.” I’ve never forgotten that and have made sure to follow that advice whenever anyone I love has had to stay in the hospital. Madeline learned to carry that torch.

Shawn’s time in the emergency room and as a hospital patient was really hard. Madeline, at his side, had to help him make sense out of the accident and all the tests being performed on him. Missing meals and precious sleep, she helped him deal with incredible pain and assisted him to perform the most menial, everyday tasks. She was as strong as steel during that time.

After he was moved to our house, her determined, unwavering care continued. I have watched her, with utter admiration, as she strategically helped him in and out of bed, adjusted pillows, steadied the walker, handed crutches, changed bandages, dispensed medications—you name it. She did it. Without complaining. It has been hard. Really hard.

What makes this even more admirable is the fact that she has her own health challenges. She was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when she was fourteen years old. Physical strength and stamina have always been a challenge for her. As her mom, I have tended to not push her beyond what I thought she could handle. I think I’ve short-changed her.

This situation has called out strength, wisdom and selflessness which I have never had the opportunity to see in her before.

She has truly grown up.

Being grown up is not about reaching a certain age and being able to call yourself an adult.

Being grown up is about doing the hard stuff. It’s about finding joy and gratitude in the midst of horrible circumstances. It’s about not feeling “entitled” to your way or your comfort. It’s also about taking initiative, not waiting to be asked. And, not resenting when you are asked to do something. Being grown up is about loving.

Being grown up is not about you.

Question: What else does being grown up look like? 

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31 Responses to “How Do You Know When You’re Grown Up?”

  1. Thank you. I really needed this today.

  2. Wow … I am encouraged reading this.

    My car got totaled last month. Combine that with a an uneasy emotional state trying to adjust to a new job, I’ve definitely had grownup practice. I’ve wanted to revert into “what-about-me” mode more than once.

    Your story really puts it in perspective. Kudos to Madeline. You never know how strong you are until you’re stretched. I’m so thankful Shawn is alive.

  3. I can’t imagine many things more difficult than what you’ve been through. I’m celebrating with you your daughter’s wonderful survival. May God grant her many many more healthy years.

  4. My daughter was six when she went through Stage IV cancer and a bone marrow transplant.

    As I watched her go 28 days without eating anything by mouth, run a 106 degree fever, hallucinate on morphine, endure excruciating surgeries, and during the worst of it, talk with me about going to heaven, I discovered underneath her suffering a great strength and a great beauty.

    And I remember thinking late one night as I watched her sleep, “She is my hero. I’m the grown up, but she is my hero.”

    (By the way, with a 15% chance of survival at diagnosis, she is celebrating 10 years of survival this May.)

    What a wonderful gift you and I have both been given–to have Hero Daughters.

  5. Gail,

    You must be so proud of your daughter. It is a wonderful thing to see hidden character be brought to light by trials. I have eight children 26 to 6 and four of them are “adult”. I am frustrated by the lack of initiative our eldest daughter shows and have to bite my tongue not to criticize yet the other day we had a young family over for dinner and the young mom kept talking about the “good fruit” she saw in our older children. It took her words to make me realize that my children all were exhibiting “good fruit”; our eldest daughter is the night manager of a maternity home for troubled women and is dating a solid Christian guy of character) and the others are all leaders among their peers and involved in service. Sometimes moms can be blind and I certainly have been!

    Glad to have found you through twitter…I’ve enjoyed your husband’s posts for some time now but glad to have found his better half :-).

    Jill Farris

  6. I can really relate to your story, Gail. My niece just got married to a long term boyfriend who was involved in the same type of bicycling accident. It has been a long struggle for him, but thankfully they are both strong Christians, and the recovery has gone well.

    Hopefully the person who hit Shawn will have a change of heart and do the responsible thing. Thank you for sharing your story of hospitality. Your daughter will make someone an incredible wife in the future!

  7. Thanks for posting. I’m 31 and I just reached the true grown up stage. It’s freeing.

  8. Recently as our own five turned fifteen to twenty six and a family plan for this fall turned out differently than expected I asked my father, now 78, who has cancer and is now the one cared for instead of the doctor giving care “When do you let go and truly release them as adults in their own world and not see them as your little children who live so deeply in your heart of hearts?” His reply “How old are you? …with a wry smile. Though I know you are fully capable, managing through the months Les is gone when the real war <insert might be surviving the raising of 5 teenagers to young adults at home….I'm still dad" And so we are…still Mom, but ever so full of joy at these beautiful creatures we are so very privileged to have watched bloom.
    You make loving you so easy as does Mike, and I am thankful you are you….what a gift to us all. Thank you for making your family and supporting your husband the priority …it shows…and its beautiful both inside and out.

  9. Gail, thank you for sharing this story of unconditional and sacrificial love.

    Where there is great love even sin (the hit and run) can be pushed into the background of the situation. As a father of three very young children your story reminded me that cultivating a caring spirit in our children is vital to their long term success as adults. You should be one proud mama.

  10. Thank you for this post, Gail. I have 2 daughters who are 24 and 20, and an autistic son who is 19. As you can imagine, growing up looks different for all of them. For me, the biggest struggle has been wondering if my girls were short-changed because so much of our energy had to go into raising our son. Yet I’ve seen them grow into compassionate young women who have a special heart for those with special needs.

    In this economy, growing up for my daughters has also meant becoming financially independent, doing without some luxuries (a car for our 20-year-old, for instance), and seeking employment in a very difficult climate.

    Growing up has also meant finding their own faith. Their father and I always prayed that they would not just blindly follow our faith, but that they would do the work necessary and wrestle with God on their own. This is more difficult to watch than we anticipated! But we know that they truly have their OWN relationship with Jesus today.

    For our son, growing up is a daily question. We work hard to balance acceptance and expectation. We fail often; we cry sometimes; we pray constantly. The book has not been written on him yet, but we know that God has it.

    As much as I wanted to give my children a carefree, no-struggle life, I’m so thankful that God had other plans. Growing up is hard. But it is real and rewarding.

    Blessings to Madeline and Shawn!

  11. Beautiful, Gail. No one likes the pain, but that is when we really grow. And it prepares us for loving/encouraging others in pain. I had someone comment on one of my posts: I’m sorry for the pain you went through, but I am so grateful for it. Your pain has been a blessing to me.

  12. Wow. Thanks, Barbara. I love this: “Selflessness in service to others forges maturity, and deepens our compassion.”

  13. Thank you for this beautiful post, Gail. As an RN for many years, I appreciate the tender loving care and hard work your Madeline gave to Shawn. I’ve spent many months over the last two years giving care and nurturing my dad in his home in another state–and Mom needs more relief now, too. It’s been the most gut-wrenching, physically exhausting, and soul-soaring work I’ve ever done.

    I agree with you. Madeline shines in her giving, and she’s all grown up. I pray God will bless her richly, and hasten Shawn’s healing on all levels.

    Selflessness in service to others forges maturity, and deepens our compassion. Christmas blessings to you and your wonderful family.

  14. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

  15. Thanks for sharing your story. Biji is so blessed to have you in her life! And so are your daughters!

  16. Great post… it made me think about how selflessness and being mature (grown up) do seem to go hand and hand. Greatly enjoyed how you articulated it. Thanks.

  17. I’m so glad I turned to your page today. I just needed to know what the woman behind the man was like! 🙂

    Hi Gail,

    My name is Raj and I just returned from a four day trip to Birmingham, AL, to visit my 87 year old grandma in the hospital. I have four young daughters and leaving them behind wasn’t easy, but I’ve been blessed with an ultra-supportive hubby and amazing friends who held down the fort, giving me precious days with Biji, my mom’s mom.

    It’s not easy to watch a loved one age, but time is precious, and I had one mission in mind when I entered Biji’s room in Intermediate Care: to love her. I combed her hair, clipped her toe nails, fed her soup, held her cup when she was thirsty, rubbed lotion on her legs, and fetched the nurse when medical needs arose. But I think the best gift we gave each other was the gift of gab. We both like to talk and laugh, and we shared plenty of tummy tickling moments during those long hours in the hospital. I even had her giggling when I simulated my daily workout next to her with repeated sets of squats, lunges and wall sits.

    I think the hardest part of the visit was hearing her say, “I can’t walk. I can’t even stand. What good am I to anyone now? No one wants me now.”

    I tried to make her a deal, “Come with me to New York. You tell me stories. I’ll write them down. We’ll split the profit 50/50!”

    She laughed and told me, “No way. Your house is too small.” She speaks her mind. Just one of the many things I love about her.

    On my final evening there, her medical needs increased. She went from recovering from kidney failure, a newly plastered broken arm, and extremely low blood pressure to constant pain in her legs and the need for a blood transfusion. It was so hard leaving her. I didn’t want to leave. But I knew my girls needed me too. It was time to go home.

    I hugged her and told her I’d be back. She scolded me for the third time that week, “Why did you spend the money and come and see me?”

    This time I didn’t explain. Or justify. Or remind her of the obvious. I just held her.

    When I let go after my Uncle reminded me it was time to go, she gave my hand a small sqeeze, smiled, and said, “I’m so glad you came.”

    I’m back in NY, missing Biji. I call her daily to check on her. Wish I wasn’t so far away. Growing up is caught while taught. My parents and hubby are great teachers. But Jesus teaches best of all. He doesn’t just say he loves us. He showed us. And he shows us. Merry Christmas Gail. To you and yours.


    Raj Paulus

  18. Thank you, Pat.

  19. Gail, I believe that while we may not need to show these strengths on a daily basis, the examples we see in life such as those of commitment you and Mike have set for her kick in and we arise to whatever the need it in a crises.

    Over the past several years my husband and I have both faced medical issues that needed this type of round-the-clock attention. Each of us have our own health issues and physical limitations, however, when one of us is in need the other is there. I have seen each of us become more than we thought we could be or do.

    It is so very sad what has happened to Shawn. The good news is he is loved and has experienced this in its truest form. Madeline has shown herself and everyone else what she is made of.

  20. Thank you for sharing your insight! I really like this line. “Being grown up is not about reaching a certain age and being able to call yourself an adult. Being grown up is about doing the hard stuff.” Your daughter sounds like an incredible lady.

  21. It’s an incredible place to be as a parent. Does wonders for your prayer life. 🙂

  22. This is such a heartening, beautiful post. My first one flew the nest to college this year, and although it’s been hard for me, there’s been so much joy watching her mature and grow in Jesus.

  23. I love this, “it is realizing that what you do for others counts more than what you can get from them…”

  24. Thanks so much.

  25. wow! challenging! I’d like to echo, “being grown up is not about you”. Being grown up is about being selfless and putting others before. Selfishness often synonymous with being childish. being grown up means you realize the world doesn’t revolve around you. it is realizing that what you do for others counts more than what you can get from them…

    i could summarize your post this way: growing up is about growing in love

  26. Deana,

    Thank you SO much! I’m committed to writing once a week for now and eventually will write three times each week. (I’m not going to “try” to write—haha. See: If for no other reason, just for the discipline and to improve as a writer.

    Also, I just added those buttons. I had no idea I could have them on


  27. Beautiful post, Gail. Continually, I’m struck by the level of self-awareness, recognition of the positive, and affirmation your family members possess. It’s inspiring!

  28. Gail, this is a lovely story. I’m so sorry for the hit and run. That had to have been awful. Watching our children blossom is bittersweet in many ways. Thank you for sharing this.

    I’m enjoying watching you grow as a writer. Your posts get better and better. I don’t see a share option on your blog. WordPress has an option in settings/share that allows buttons for sharing to twitter, facbook, stumble et al. They’ve made it rather simple to include this now, even if you don’t self host.

    Your posts are worth sharing Gail. You should add that option.


  29. I love this post, Gail. It has been an absolute delight to watch Madeline blossom before our very eyes. It is also a reminder for all of us, that pain and even tragedy can play an important role in our lives. It gives us the opportunity to express something inside us that may otherwise be left unexpressed.

    Of course, all of our daughters have had a terrific role model in you. 😉

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