I was seventeen when I moved away from home to start college. Anxious and excited to be the first in my family to study on a scholarship, I counted the days until I could move out. While these positive things were happening in my academic life, things at home were chaotic. My relationship with my parents was toxic and strained because of our different religious views. Religion — or rather, my departure from the church — is why my parents and I didn’t have a great relationship for most of my late teens, early twenties, and on.
To finally be on my own as a college student was exhilarating for me. I woke up when I wanted; I did chores because I loved to keep tidy, not because I was ordered to, and I went out at night without asking for permission. When I finished my studies, I moved to California with my high school boyfriend and got a job in social work.
I felt like an actual adult, independent and grown-up, and I swore I’d never live at home again.
Over the next 13 years, I lived in three different states in a house with a boyfriend, a house with roommates, and in an apartment by myself. I was always proud of myself for making it on my own without my parents — our relationship was still messy, and I was happier living my life away from them.
And then, life happened. I grew up. Therapy helped me heal my relationship with my parents, and shockingly, I considered moving back to my hometown to be closer to my family. When I found an apartment that wouldn’t be available for another three months, I thought about how easy (and financially smart) it would be to live at my parent’s house while I waited to move into my new place.
Could I survive living at home, under the same roof as my parents, after 13 years of being away?
Yes, our relationship was a million times healthier, but what would happen to us if we were in each other’s space for 12 weeks?
Well, it’s been six weeks and we’re all still alive. Halfway through my temporary residence, and I’m sensing the feeling that I’m going to miss living here with them. My mom’s cooking is lovely, the proximity to my siblings is wonderful, and the whole not paying rent part is really helpful. I’m happy to be making memories with my family every day.
But even in the friendliest relationships, coming into someone’s house to live for a little while (or longer) takes some serious adjusting on all sides.
It’s humbling — to be quite honest — to see that not everyone has the same habits and patterns as us. And *gasp* they survive even though they don’t like to organize their dishes in the dishwasher like us, or they only check the mail once a week. It may drive us mad, but when we think about how blessed we are to have family or friends or a co-worker willing to take us in during a time of need, we realize it’s not that bad after all.
Here are five important lessons I’ve learned while living with my parents & siblings for the first time in 13 years.
1. Everyone has their way of doing things
I may not like how others fold their bath towels, how they squeeze the toothpaste tube, or how they let their three dogs in the kitchen while I make breakfast but repeat after me — this is not my house.
Remind yourself whenever you feel like complaining or giving some kind of attitude: this is not my house. Acclimate, acclimate, acclimate to your surroundings as best as you can. You are a guest and the best thing you can do to make your stay go smoothly is to respect their way of doing things.
Despite this, keep in mind that:
2. It’s natural to get annoyed about the little things
Spending an extended period with even your best friend can cause tension and frustration. When it’s our parents and family members, it’s even easier to be bothered because we feel so comfortable with them and we want to tell them when they don’t do things the way we like them.
It’s only human to be irked at the little things, and it’s how we handle these minor annoyances that matters.
Speak up if it’s something that really matters to you, like how you’d prefer to wash your clothes yourself instead of them coming into your room to do your laundry. Speak up if you buy a specific snack/meal for lunch and you’re frustrated that someone has eaten it without asking on three separate occasions.
But when it’s something small, is it really worth a conversation? Again, sometimes, it’s easier to remind yourself: I’m not living in my own home. I can adjust. I am an adult. I can acclimate.
3. It helps to stay open-minded about changing your routine and environment
No matter how much we love our family and friends, we all need some time apart every once in a while. I had a few moments last week where I was annoyed, and I really wanted some time out of the house. It is incredibly helpful to have a getaway spot, like a public park or a coffee shop.
Given the current state and climate, it may be hard to break your routine and escape outside of the house. If you can’t go too far, make yourself a cheerful place within your room/space in the house or apartment, and politely let your roommates know that you’ll be working/reading/journaling for the rest of the day. There is nothing wrong with taking care of your mental health first — even if it means saying no to spending time with the people you live with.
4. Find the silver lining in your situation
I know, I know, I hate being told to stay positive when I’m frustrated too. But during the last six weeks, I’ve realized how lucky I am to have parents who welcomed me into their home with open arms; parents who gave me a bedroom to make my own. I am fully aware of how privileged I am. With that being said, find your silver lining.
- If you don’t have to pay rent while you live with someone else (or if it’s just a portion of your usual rent), that is a silver lining. You can save money for a deposit on a new apartment, or a down payment on a house.
- If you’ve lived alone for a long time like I have, having company and people to talk to about my day after work is a silver lining.
- If you’re living with your parents (or a friend who loves to cook) and now you get to enjoy someone else’s delicious cooking every day, those meals are a silver lining. If you enjoy cooking for others, sharing your cuisine skills is another silver lining.
- Bottom line: if you have someone in your life who is kind and generous enough to offer you a place to stay — whether it’s temporary or permanent — that relationship is a silver lining. Not everyone has a friend or family member who will give up part of their home, their privacy, and their family’s space for them. Instead of finding things that annoy you about your new living situation, remember that you are lucky to be there.
5. It makes things easier for everyone if you express your gratitude
This may sound like paying $ for your stay, but money isn’t the only we can show appreciation.
- Volunteering to cook dinner for a night or buying groceries is a wonderful way to show your appreciation.
- Offering to pick up the kids from school or going to the market is another way.
- Keeping your personal bedroom/area tidy is another way. Don’t have someone else pick up after you; we’re all adults here, aren’t we?
- Depending on your personal circumstances and the agreement you made with your new roommates, keeping your word is another way to say thank you. If they agreed to house you until you found a job, make sure you are actively job-hunting and not just coasting by on their dime. If they agreed to let you live with them for X number of months, don’t overstay your welcome without asking first.
Whether you are staying with a close friend, your parents, or your great-aunt Jean, it helps to stay mindful of the kindness that is being extended to you during your stay. I’m living with my parents for another month until my apartment is ready, and I’ve learned a lot throughout this time.
I look back at my younger self, the one who swore she’d never live at home again, and I chuckle at her naivety.
Living with your parents (or extended family) is nothing to be ashamed about, nor does it need to be explained. Shit happens — and sometimes, we need to be a little more forgiving to ourselves if we need to ask for help. Even if we’ve been independent our entire adult life, it’s okay to lean on someone for a while until we pick ourselves back up.
I don’t tell people I’m living with my parents as a temporary fix. I don’t need to justify my reasons for choosing to live at home, nor is my situation something to be embarrassed about. I’m living at home, like many other adults my age, and that’s that. And it’s a privilege to live at home with my parents; it’s not something to be ashamed of.
Jessica Mendez is a full-time writer living in Las Vegas, NV. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from NAU and her master’s degree in family and human development from ASU. In 2018, she left her career in mental health to pursue a career in writing. She is currently working on her debut novel and a collection of bilingual poetry. Follow her on Twitter and Medium to read more of her work.
Image courtesy of August de Richelieu.