Am I Too Comfortable Living With My Parents?
An expert provides advice on how to establish an adult sense of self while living at home.
With September somehow fully underway, I have officially been living at home in Ohio for six months. It is the longest stretch of time—by far—that I have spent under my parents’ roof since I left for college over six years ago.
This was never the plan.
You see, I used to live in New York City, where I was accustomed to the “busy” lifestyle of many cosmopolitan millennials. My weekdays were packed with “working breakfasts” and PR launches as a freelance writer, while my weekends were filled with Pilates classes and dinners with friends. I enjoyed this life and had no intention of abandoning it.
But when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic hit, it all started to look less shiny. The thought of being stuck inside my 300-square-foot studio—alone—incited panic. With nowhere else to go and a craving for parental support, I headed home in mid-March. I arrived in Cleveland with a single carry-on suitcase, expecting to stay a week or two.
Before I knew it, Memorial Day came and went. I ordered running shorts and Teva shoes online, long resigned to the fact that my wardrobe resided in a different state. Friends who’d also come home seeking shelter at the onset of the pandemic were beginning to head back to their real lives. I, however, stayed.
I don’t like the summer in the city, I said (humidity makes me cranky). All my work is remote, I said. I can’t complain, I said.
In reality, I was really enjoying myself—much more than I realized I could’ve. I’m lucky. I get along with my parents inexplicably well. My little brother and I happen to be close. I live in a lush wooded area that is optimal for outdoor summer enjoyment. I even started swimming laps daily—something I never could’ve seen myself doing before now. Besides the oddity of inhabiting my teen-angst-ridden bedroom as a 25-year-old, I was thriving at home.
Here’s the thing: I’m a homebody, pandemic notwithstanding. Back in my N.Y.C. days, I was perfectly happy to spend a Friday night in. So now I was perfectly happy to spend every night in. I didn’t mind the break from the fast-paced city life I once lived. I liked spending weekends making waffles with my mom and reading on the porch with my dad. The pandemic provided me with an endless excuse to unplug from the world—and I willingly took it.
But as Labor Day drew nearer and my tan lines began to fade, I started to notice something. The routines of my “old life” were slipping, too. I hadn’t listened to my favorite podcast in weeks. I hadn’t eaten pad Thai—my go-to comfort food—in months. I was suddenly re-adjusted to my parents’ schedule, my parents’ eating habits, my parents’ television-watching interests. I May Destroy You, that TV show that the entire internet couldn't stop talking about? Don’t tell me spoilers; I’ve been too busy bingeing The Good Wife with my mom and dad. Yet, more importantly, I wasn’t relying on my friends for emotional support anymore. I barely even made an effort to “social-distance” see the few friends who were still around. When asked, I cited a feeling of “numbness” and generalized “pandemic anxiety.”
When it came time for me to make a choice about my apartment lease, I realized that I wasn’t even utilizing my usual methods for decision-making: polling my friends, excessively talking it out to anyone who will listen. It was just me, in my head, with my parents. I needed my peers.
I was at a crossroads. I wasn’t ready to head back to my “old life,” but I also wasn’t ready to choose a new path. Where did that leave me?
You know that feeling when you’re walking down the street, headphones playing your favorite song—it’s you, your thoughts, and the music, and you can feel yourself learning something new about yourself, you can feel the sudden adultness of your own life? I hadn’t felt that in so long. I knew I was stuck in the warmth of my parental cocoon; I knew I wasn’t growing. But, I also wasn’t actively upset about it. It made me a little nervous, but mostly because of how comfortable I felt living this new lifestyle.
I realize the pandemic has created feelings of stasis for many of us. For me, I wanted to know if continuing to live at home was going to heighten that. Would the facade eventually crack? Once the luster of summer wore off (and my daily swims weren’t able to offer me a meditative space), would I feel the loneliness? Would it start to get to me that my friends are all making big moves in their personal lives—moving cross-country, moving in with partners—and that I would be left behind?
With these questions in mind, I decided to consult a developmental psychologist to help. So, if you, like me, have been unexpectedly and confusedly living at home for an extended period of time, take note below.
Create space for your “adult self,” even while living with parents.
“There is an individuation process that we go through in our early adult years to separate ourselves from our family units and to grow into our own personhood,” says Dr. Mackenzie Soniak, a psychologist who specializes in youth and adolescent development. Right now, our generation is missing out on moments of this integral growth period and all the learning that comes along with it. For those of us currently removed from our “real lives,” Dr. Soniak suggests remaining in contact with work colleagues or other peers. “Touch base with friends by phone. Make sure you’re able to take time away from the family and step into your 'adult self,' especially if those selves aren’t currently aligning at home,” she says.
Find room for growth within the home.
“Though it may be different from our independent environments, we can still grow within the confines of our current realities. Even when old patterns and habits of communicating with parents linger, rules of hierarchies are long established,” explains Dr. Soniak. If those dynamics aren’t working for your current iteration of selfhood and aren't fostering a healthy environment for your well-being, Dr. Soniak suggests opening a dialogue with your parentals. “Instead of thinking of this period as stunted, it can be a time for major growth in changing the dynamics of old family structures and systems. There is a vulnerability and courageousness that you have to step into when you enter into these conversations with family, even if they are your safe space.”
Learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable—and don't feel forced to make a change.
Whether you’re uber comfy at home or itching for a lifestyle change, Dr. Soniak attests that “learning how to sit in uncertainty is part of the growth process.” She adds: “It’s okay to feel discomfort and choose to sit with it. Other times, it’s okay to decide to make a change. This is only temporary. All the options are okay.”
Speaking with Dr. Soniak reassured my inaction. Yes, I may be at a crossroads. But it doesn’t have to be time yet to choose a new path. I’ll live in the comfort zone for a little bit longer, even if it means prolonging the inevitable uncertainty of what's to come.