I almost never tell people right away that I live with my parents. I don’t like their assumptions. For instance, instead of hearing that I’m successful in a career I love, they seem to put silent quotation marks around “freelance writer,” as if it’s code for unemployed.
A couple of weeks ago, I walked into the kitchen where my mother was reading the newspaper. “Let me read you something,” she said. It was one of the many articles that sprang up in the wake of the latest Pew research that shows that living with parents is now the most common arrangement for people ages eighteen to thirty-four, outpacing those who live with partners for the first time since this sort of data has been collected. The article was called “Goodbye Empty Nest: Millennials Stay Home.”
I read these pieces compulsively, knowing that doing so might be hurtful. Some of them are reporting the facts, but others are editorializing on everything that is wrong with millennials and people who live with their parents. Even when I’m not looking for them, little nuggets pop up in my regular reading. While reading an article about a new chain Whole Foods is marketing to millennials, I noted that the author stated that millennials’ mothers are doing the grocery shopping. I clicked the link and found that it led to the Pew research, which never says anything about groceries. I try to tell myself that the broad, sweeping statements don’t matter to me, and to a point, they don’t. Rather, the comments that hurt the most are from people I know, or have just met, saying them right to me. It’s easier to push aside an article than a person making eye contact.
In the not-so-distant past, I lived with two other girls in a wonderful house. Our home had hardwood floors throughout and fun little built-ins. My room had a giant window, a bathroom, a walk-in closet. The kitchen was filled with light and had plenty of space, the perfect place to practice my shaky cooking techniques. At the end of our lease, one of the girls graduated from nursing school and the other chose to move into another roommate situation. I was serious about a relationship with someone in another state, and I decided to move to be closer to that person. I boxed up all my stuff and put it in my parents’ garage. I would stay with them for a few weeks, between the end of one lease and the beginning of another. I cried all day, cleaning and moving the last pieces of my life. I had never thought I would move back home again.
But things don’t always go the way you planned. That relationship ended at the last moment, and I canceled my move. I had quit the part-time job that supplemented my writing income, and I was heartbroken. I was living in my brother’s childhood room (mine had been turned into an office). My parents said I could stay as long as I needed to.
I used the time to build up my freelance business. Soon I was making as much money, if not more, than I had in various other jobs. My parents and I renegotiated. I started paying rent and part of the utilities. I continued to buy my own groceries.
In many ways, my living situation is much like any other communal one. When you live with others in close quarters, sometimes things don’t go your way. You need to be mindful of the people sharing your space; you can’t leave your dishes in the sink for days; you cannot steal other people’s avocados.
But my parents are not like any other roommates I’ve had. When I moved back in, my mother told me how glad she was that she knew I was safe. She has reiterated that thought many times in the intervening months and I’ve thought about it many more. Unlike my other roommates, she likes to know where I’m going and when I’m going to be home. It’s one way she can’t turn off the parent inside her. I will never be a just roommate. This is a tension.
Of course, there are good things about living with a healthy family too. They’ve known you for a long time, they love you, and they want the best for you. Often, there is more grace in a relationship like this than in a roommate situation. Plus, you’re building a relationship that extends far beyond your current living arrangements. Your parents will always be your parents.
Still, in spite of these good things, it can be hard to live with your parents. Recently, I broke down sobbing in our kitchen, so frustrated with my inability to find a way to move out. I just wanted a little more space, a little more room to make my own life. After that, my parents started asking around at church to see if anyone knew of someone looking for a roommate.
Most people assume the reason I’m staying is because I’m not paying rent. Once they discover that’s not the reason, that I do pay rent, they often ask, “Why don’t you move out?” This is an interesting question. I loved living with roommates, and I’d love to again, but I live in a city where early marriage is the norm and so I have fewer options. Yet I’ve been talking about my desire to find a new situation in nearly every conversation I’ve had lately. I’ve gone to look at places, gotten my hopes up, and then been crushed to hear that someone else has been chosen. In a way, looking for a roommate is like dating, which is another thing that isn’t going according to my plan.
One of the articles about the topic of people like me living with their parents, from the Atlantic, offers a chilling statistic: “As many as one in four of today’s young adults may never marry.” If I am one of them, it won’t be for lack of trying.
These situations—the scarcity of roommates and the statistical probabilities for marriage—share a common thread: I can’t control either of them. I can put out feelers for a roommate and go on dates with people I’ve met online and be open to possibilities, but the fact remains that everything has to line up. I can’t make these work out on my own.
Still, I can get up every morning and make myself a cup of tea. I can take good care of myself, and speak kind, affirming words into my own life. I might not be able to control my address or finding a roommate or my dating life, or even my feelings (and perhaps very few of us can), but I can choose how to respond to the particular curves of my life. My home may look more like the one I’d hoped to leave behind by now than the one I thought I’d have in my late twenties, but it’s still home.