As a fledgling adult who has flown out of the nest only to return, I have grown used to prolonged silences greeting that the acknowledgement that…
“Yes, I still live with my parents.”
Although many of the individuals I tell this news to are accepting of the choice (“You’re still young! You’re in between things! You’ll figure it out!”), there is an underlying assumption that I have not achieved the optimal level of independence expected of a 20-something living in America.
But the real story is not that I’m living with my parents because my wings are too weak or because I am incapable of autonomy. I have traveled the country, I have successfully moved away, but I have chosen to return.
I am living with my parents because I want to.
I recently returned from a trip across the nation with my boyfriend. For five months, my Jeep was our living room, and the national parks of the American landscape our backyard. Although we used about the cost of a first-month’s rent and deposit of a nice two-bedroom in an average American city to finance this hiatus from society, the life experience provided was incalculably priceless.
Returning from this trip, we faced the decision of where to plant roots. Neither of us had lived in anything other than a communal setting for several years, but no such opportunity was available for us at that time. As recent college graduates, dating for an amount of time that typically suggests “yep, they’re pretty serious,” social pressure and expectation would give us a firm kick out into the world of renting and real estate. Get a place of your own! Make a mark on the world!
But, that’s the thing. What kind of mark do I want to make on the world?
Is devoting an entire separate dwelling, along with all of its carbon costs, to supporting my life form the best I can do? Could I make the sacrifice of my slice of the American dream, my nuclear family nirvana, to strive toward a different ideal? Is it okay to challenge my sacred independence in society’s eyes—and more importantly, in my own?
These are questions that pester many conscientious young adults. To struggle to find a harmony between desire for autonomy and independence with vibrant and enriching community seems to be one of the paramount ordeals of “growing up.” This reconciliation can take many forms. Living communally with peers or striving to build support systems in the community are great ways to improve the (fiscal) ease of living, decrease our carbon footprint, and increase the “good-feels” one derives from community living.
However, for me, living with my parents, in their roomy and unoccupied lower level, was the most attractive option presented—stigma and all.
There are some immediate pros of this unpopular choice. I would have the freedom to pay down my student loans aggressively, as my monthly rent is far less than the cost of renting elsewhere (while still supplying my parents with a modest revenue stream). I will, correspondingly, also have the freedom to work less and engage with my passions more, all while saving money for the future. Not to mention the fact that I will be acting to retain the integrity and strength of a family system and community.
There was still a big (okay, huge) question that raced through my mind, though. “Can I emotionally handle living with my parents? Won’t the experience challenge my autonomy, ideals, and adult resilience? Won’t it just be…uncomfortable?”
Yes and no.
It is uncomfortable to mesh the ideals of an older generation with the outside-mainstream perspectives like my own (for example, I am the author of this article about dumpster diving). It takes resolve and a fair amount of grace to accept the behaviors and ideals you cannot change in others. This will be true in absolutely any community, whether with peers, siblings, or parents. Starting out with a base of love helps a lot.
I feel that I am growing far more as a human that I would have in my safety bubble of independence, choosing only company that agrees with my lifestyle. This is a challenge. This is…fun?
Six months after that decision point, the perks of the arrangement exceed my expectations. My boyfriend and I have helped my parents put in a garden double the size of their last vegetable garden, as well as a native plant garden (a marriage of their desire for increased curb appeal, and my passion for pollinators) in the front yard. We’ve hosted weirdly themed parties (Go-go Vampire Bloody Mary party, anyone?) including both their friends and ours. We go on hikes together. We have heated debates about contemporary politics together. We are more dynamic, more productive, and dare I say, happier, together.
We are also more stable. Compared to the economic tight-rope walk of single- or double-income households, we have four. This makes our family more resilient against the changing tides of income, economy, and unforeseen life events.
We don’t have children yet, but if we were to, our children would benefit from more diversity of perspective, more supervising eyes, and more love.
If you, like us, have decided to live with your parents or another relative, you’re not alone. Although public perception of the choice is suffering, 1 in 6 Americans now lives in a multi-generational household. Internationally, this rate of joint family households is higher—and in some cases constitutes the majority, as opposed to fringe, choice.
If, unlike us, you are not living with your parents or communally—there is still a piece in this for you.
I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to be needed, and to have needs in return. In fact, in doing so, we are participating in one of the absolutely coolest things about being a human being—our ability to love and cooperate.
I hope that, all together, and regardless of our specific living situations, we can learn to think differently about independence, interdependence, and what it means to be successful. Let’s be less afraid to need one another, and more excited to share with one another. Even if it means sacrificing a few hard-won, golden pieces of autonomy, the trade off is worth consideration.
Living with mindfulness around how we can share reciprocally has the capability to infuse our daily experience with more meaning, more love, and often less stress and hassle in the long run.
For many of my generation, the nuclear family dream that was so shiny and alluring in the mid-twentieth century has changed into a nuclear nightmare of epic proportions. We struggle to live the American dream, while facing a much different economic reality than its creators did in the 1950s.
In our choice to not occupy our very own IKEA-adorned living room, we are not living up to a certain ideal of the American consumer. We will probably always meet the scorn of that one uncle, who asks, “When are you going to get your life together?”
The unspoken expectation of exalted independence remains unfulfilled.
But in its stead, we are living in the way humans have lived for most of our history.
We are united, and we are stronger for it.
Author: Margaret Parsons
Editor: Emily Bartran