The GOOD Guide to Hustlin': How to Move Back Home and Keep Your Dignity
In our new series, The GOOD Guide to Hustlin', we go beyond the pitying articles about youth in recession and discover ways our generation is coping. The last few years may have been a rude awakening, but we're surviving. Here's how.
Since the recession hit, we’ve been bombarded with stories about the so-called boomerang generation. More and more young adults are living at home through their twenties or are forced to move back after college or a layoff. We all know it happens; we all know it’s not usually the ideal situation. But we’re sick of reading patronizing accounts of underachieving kids. How do you make the best of this reality? How do you deal with awkward moments and culture clash? We’ve got the answers.
Pitch in before your parents ask you to. “Remember that while your parents missed you, it is no longer 'your' home like it was before,” says Roei, 24, who moved into his parents’ house and onto their health insurance plan after his health took a turn for the worse. “So contribute without being asked.” This could mean paying a small amount of the rent, and if that’s not feasible, helping out around the house.
“Tell them, ‘Neither of you will have to wash up a single plate while I’m living here,’” says Naomi, now 36, who moved back in at 28 to save money for a Master’s degree. “Not only does this tangibly smooth things over, but it helps you not to slide back into regressive behavior. “It’s really easy to fall into behaving like that privileged teenager you were, but then they get to treat you that way, too, and that’s just very bad.”
Set some ground rules beforehand.“I really wish I had asked my parents about boundaries before I moved in,” says Nadia, 24. “How clean they wanted me to be, how much they expected me to be home. They always got mad at me for not coming home for dinner.” The last time you were there, you were a kid—you'll need to make the necessary adjustments.
Keep busy. There’s not always a huge difference between being employed and unemployed in your parents’ house. Both can be rough. “I felt like the shitty kid who’d somehow failed to make it happen, regardless of the fact that I was working freelance or that I did, in fact, go outside and see daylight,” says Michelle, 22, who moved in with her parents in the Chicago suburbs because she couldn’t find full time work. But it helps to keep chilling with your friends, to find a hobby, anything to prevent your parents from getting on your nerves and vice versa.
“I was able to join an adult sports league,” says Rachelle, 29, who lived with her mom for a year in Berlin, NH. “It introduced me to people from the town in a different age bracket than those I went to high school with, and it was incredibly social (read: we drank beers!)” Speaking of which…
Invest in some alcohol. No, really. I’m not suggesting you become a raging drunk, but a surprising amount of people I talked to recommended breaking the ice socially with your parents—having a more “grown-up hang-out session,” as one 26-year-old put it. This doesn’t have to literally involve alcohol. It could mean doing an activity together that you didn’t do when you were a kid, or making a nice dinner together.
Having adult moments can be surprisingly feel-good, if a little awkward. Rachelle remembers helping her mom get ready for a date. “It was fun to help her get ready, using my newly acquired college makeup skills,” she says, even though later it was incredibly awkward when she brought her date home. Still, it made Rachelle feel a little more grownup. “I remember my mother retiring to her room while my friends hung out at ‘my’ house,” Rachelle recalls. “I needed to do that for her now.” This works much in the same way as when you shared a beer with your roommate, then stealthily put on your headphones when she brought a booty call home.
Of course, you and your parents may have wildly different values. In which case…
Play along. What if you’re a bleeding-heart liberal, and the rest of your family are Reaganites? What if your Orthodox Jewish family wants you to marry right away, and you’re happy with sleeping around? Don’t compromise your beliefs, but don’t get in their faces about it, either. When Nathan, a 25-year-old trans man, moved back into his parents’ house in the suburbs of Philly this past summer, most of the people in town didn’t recognize him. “When the person at the dry cleaner looks at the last name on the ticket and asks ‘How's your sister?’ I’m not going to correct her,” Nathan says. “This is where my parents live, and I don’t want to mess with their relationships with people for no reason.”
Nathan also smokes, which pisses off his mother. But he just does it out of her sight, and tells her he only has one or two a day. “There’s an expectation that I’ll tell her what she wants to hear, and I don’t think it’s hurting anything,” he says.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t stand your ground; as long as it doesn’t affect your parents’ lives directly, they shouldn’t have a say over your decisions. When Feministing’s Samhita Mukhopadhyay moved back home to save a little money, her strict Hindu dad offered to help her with romantic prospects by putting her photo up on an Indian dating website. Her response? “Sorry, dad. I don’t need you to make a profile for me on Shaadi.com.”
Remember that Americans are the weird ones. Young adults living with their parents is in the norm around the world—anyone from French to Chinese to Brazilian kids often live with their parents through their twenties. Most countries don’t look down on young people moving back home because, as Nathan put it, “they don't have that American-dream capitalism drive bullshit.”
But as 27-year-old Jeanie points out, even if you still do have that American dream in mind, living at home could be the exact thing you need to do to achieve it. “I’ve been [living with my mom] to pursue a career in the arts and I’m not sure I could be doing the work I’m doing if I didn’t live with her,” Jeanie says. “I don’t feel bad about living with my mom, because I know why I’m doing it and it’s been worth it.”
Illustration by Andres Guzman