The stigma of returning to live with one’s parents is so unique in the United States
The first time I left home to go to college, I waited for my South Asian parents to burst into tears as parents often did on American television, somewhere between unpacking a bed in a polka dot bag and do that first pass of the dining room card to make sure my meal plan was intact. But all I remember on move-in day to college was a pat on the back, a whispered “I love you” followed by “OK, see you next weekend. ! And my boy, have my parents kept their word.
The second time I left the family home was about two years after I graduated from college. I had joined the local newspaper for my first media job and was ready to take on individual financial responsibility. This concept hardly made sense to my Indian father, who had repeatedly denied my brother and I’s requests to take a job as a teenager. He reminded us over and over again that if we ever needed or wanted anything, all we had to do was ask. Any extra time we have, he said, should be spent improving ourselves for the future, another kind of pressure that most immigrants and next-generation children are familiar with.
My family has experienced poverty and what it means to barely make it in this country as foreigners, but at almost every stage of my life we have shared the rooftops with the extended family – great uncles and aunts, great -parents, cousins, people who cannot have even been blood. We always had family to welcome us when our parents worked double shifts during their medical school residencies or when we needed temporary loans to find a rental in a prime school district. And now that we have tasted prosperity, my parents are committed to sharing the new wealth that they have worked their bodies to the bone for.
But watching my American friends from high school and college work in retail in the evenings and during the summer alongside full class schedules to pay for housing or college or just to have money. for themselves, I always felt like I was years behind. I was worried about being ill-equipped for the so-called real world. As someone who is not from wealth, I thought that I too should have tried to juggle work and school and find my own financial footing and frankly I should have been more excited to do everything without my parents in the next room.
I remember having lunch with a coworker and joking about how my dad had such an emotional meltdown when I told him I was moving now that I could support myself which he threatened to give our then 8 year old rescue dog, who he is absolutely more attached to than anyone else in the house. My mother, who grew up in Pakistan and in a culture where women floated only between their father’s house and their husband’s house, also struggled with the news. My colleague laughed in disbelief; she couldn’t imagine her parents wanting her house for so long, any more than she could imagine wanting her own grown children to linger while they each had their own full-time job.
I would hear coworkers telling jokes about undated men and women who still lived in their mother’s basement and only partially understood the humor … what if they just wanted to be with the family because did the family make them happy?
Over the years, I have heard similar sentiments from American friends and acquaintances. Some rightly wanted to leave toxic homes, but many others simply wanted to leave due to invisible pressure to succeed on their own. I heard coworkers tell jokes about undated men and women who still lived in their mother’s basements and only partially understood the humor. Did these people support their parents? Were they saving for a home or a business? Were they in debt or between jobs? What if they just wanted to be with family because family made them happy?
The stigma of returning to one’s family as an adult seems so unique in the United States. In Italy, for example, Karen Fingerman, professor of human development and family science at the University of Texas at Austin, said Atlantic last year that 67% of 25-29 year olds lived with their parents in 2018, and not just because of the unavailability of housing; adult children and parents tend to find the arrangement rewarding. In other collectivist societies, including my own Muslim Indo-Pak culture, it is rarer to leave home if you are single – and especially if you are a single woman – than to stay, even if you are financially stable and prosperous. In fact, leaving home might even feel like rejection to your parents, as my own dad always seems to do.
Just before the pandemic forced much of the country into lockdown in early 2020, after quitting my job to pursue self-employment and take care of my health, me and millions of other adults between the ages of 18 and 18. 29 years old would do it soon, I had moved in with my parents. But, while I thought it was a good decision, I struggled with the idea of going home. The voices of former classmates, colleagues, dates and even former teachers who often encouraged the girl-boss mentality to pull up, made me feel smaller in one way or another. . So I gave myself six months to find another life situation.
I can’t help but think about how if I had let this learned shame of trying to get through my worst days on my own keep me from asking for shelter and emotional support when I had it most. need, I would have missed the simple joys and the comforts of just be with family.
Six months has now turned into two years, and as I prepare to move for the third time in my adult life, I can’t believe how much I underestimated this time. I can’t help but think about how if I had let this learned shame of trying to get through my worst days on my own keep me from asking for shelter and emotional support when I had it most. need, I would have missed the simple joys and the comforts of just be with family.
I would have missed learning to swim with my dog, chatting and having dinner with my nice grandparents, and playing basketball and table tennis with my parents. I would have missed having my younger brother home from law school after his classes went virtual and being able to watch our favorite shows and order our favorite Sichuan take-out, while balancing work and school.
The past two years haven’t always been as beautiful as the sun and the fresh cut fruit of Dada, but I know it’s a privilege to have a family that feels like family, and to have a home. I can count on when I’m close to drowning. And in the future, I hope I continue to remember not to take coming home for granted, no matter how old I am or what American society thinks about it.