Once upon a time in this country, and still in many other countries & cultures in the world, living with your parents after the age of 18 was not only a non-shameful experience, it was expected. In so many ways it just makes sense. In the Buddhist tradition you do not become fully of age as an emotionally, mentally & spiritually mature being until the age of 33, after your Saturn Return. Looking at it from that perspective it seems almost cruel to expect us to step out into the world not having even completed two decades of living, with the expectation that we will pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and “take over the world” (a note about bootstraps, as one of my mentors once suggested, put on a pair of boots and try it, you won’t get very far if your biggest accomplishment isn’t simply not falling over).
The last few decades have seen the rise of this practice in our culture as the economy, job/career prospects & the literal value of money stumbled into the new millennium. More and more of us have had that uncomfortable encounter when you run into someone that you used to know and they ask where you’re living nowadays, and you find your head dropping a little as you mumble out that you’re back in your parent’s place. As a wandering spirit I’ve had this encounter too many times to mention. The good news is that there’s much to learn from it. Returning to the place that unquestionably has the strongest influence on you, & indeed on your ability to achieve world domination, can be the source of some enormous breakthroughs that can benefit not only your own growth, but that of your family as a whole.
Moving back into your familial home is not the same thing as moving back home. Your parents are different people, you are a different person; if you have any siblings or family members that may also be living in the house, they’re different people too. Acknowledging this and working with it will make your experience so much more than an unfortunate side path on your road to societal autonomy. For the first time, you just might really get to know who the people in your family are. It wasn’t until some summer during college when both my brother & I were home for vacation that we actually got to know each other as individuals and not as that person that pees on the toilet seat, or hides their dirty dishes in couch nooks.
The first step is simply to look at it as a step on a road, not the conclusion of one. Yes, it sucks having your childhood triggers shoot you off into mind stifling flashbacks of every other time your mom has asked you to do the dishes, or your father has decided that your precious moments of relaxation from the stress of your unique life are less important than his need for the storage room he’s been neglecting to organize for years now being taken care of because you’re there and as far as he can tell not doing anything better in that moment (no, that example is not from personal experience at all, ahem,…). Even their acts of kindness, the unasked for washing of your clothes or cleaning of your room, can take you back to a place of dependence & helplessness because underneath it all few of us really want to live with our parents, it just kinda happens that way sometimes.
The reasons are as variable as we are ourselves. For some people its a health issue, either their own or that of their parent’s that brings them home. For others its money; others may need an emotional or mental health break & have the good fortune to be able to return home to meet that need. Whatever the reasons the opportunities available to you in the circumstance are the same.
So take those moments of frustration, flashback & unresolved anger to gain self-awareness, practice some radical honesty & do the work you can to heal some of that stubborn family karma. What this looks like will vary a great deal from person to person as each of our relationships to family is unique. Its quite different to find yourself back in the home of a parent with whom you have a loving, nurturing bond than with say a recovering alcoholic who may have wrung havoc in your developmental life. Whatever your situation is, take it slowly, and again, learn from it.
As an adult I have lived with both of my parents in their separate homes at various times & for various reasons. The time that I’ve spent co-habitating with them as adults has been incredibly enlightening and allowed me to see many patterns I perpetuate from my experience of being their child. My father, for instance, is incredibly emotionally distant & I developed in an environment where I felt emotionally invisible. It wasn’t always that he would shut down my emotions, which certainly happened, it was more that he would simply be oblivious to them, shutting them down by impact rather than intent. His lack of awareness made it so that no matter the depth of what I expressed it was treated superficially which resulted in my believing that my emotions were powerless forces, a sham almost, only there to distract me from being the stoic, resilient being he expected.
When I first left to go out into the world it took great conscious effort for me to feel that telling someone what I felt, especially in the context of intimate relationships with men, mattered. For many years I was unable to see the cause of this. Was it watching too much MTV as a teen, or maybe having some friends in the “wrong” crowd? It took about 3 weeks of me living with my Dad again to get right at the core of it.
The difference is that as a child I experienced everything, neglect, joy, sadness, excitement, yet I did not yet have language to make sense of the experiences in ways that were empowering. As a result I ended up mostly feeling very confused and like nothing that happened made any sense. As an adult I can experience the exact same situation but this time I have words for it & can therefore make sense out of it, resulting in a new neural pathway as opposed to a traumatizing tangle of unprocessed emotions. Emotional incest, neglect, narcissism, gaslighting, all of these words allow[ed] me to process what the experience was/is, and most importantly, not to take it personally.
With my adult perspective I know that however he treats me is his own karma, having little to do with mine as my karma is the way that I treat him. By changing my karma I change his as well. By being able to articulate in the moment what is problematic about that particular behavior or dynamic, I am able to fundamentally change the nature of the interaction & offer an opportunity for him to reconsider his own behavior; its a chance to make something possible that wasn’t before. Its not easy, but it works. I’ve watched my father become more emotionally responsible, better able to understand how his behavior effects the people around him & genuinely more interested in what I say to him.
1. Look inside yourself to see areas where your experience of family subconsciously drive your behavior, be it because of a reaction to them or you repeating their patterns in your own life. Make a list so that when you feel triggered you can stay clear on what’s really happening.
2. Be aware. Look at your family uncritically & without needing them to be something they’re not. Accept them exactly as they are and be kind enough to extend the same courtesy to yourself. Its easy to play the blame game and much more difficult to play the accountability one.
3. Step up. Help familial healing by bringing awareness to harmful patterns & dynamics. Use non-violent communication & mediation techniques to ease this process. Whenever you feel overwhelmed by it, try agreeing to take a break and come back to it later. This might not always work as it requires a certain level of emotional maturity & intelligence from your family members which, unfortunately, not everyone possesses.
4. Give it time. Don’t expect your family to be happy about these changes you’re bringing back from your experience outside of its internal context. Parents already have a hard time seeing you as an adult, much less one who is in a position to teach them something about themselves. If you are lucky enough to have parents that do encourage this sort of dynamic with their children, WORK IT. I cannot put enough caps on that. If you don’t, challenge them to the degree that feels safe (emotionally, physically, spiritually & psychically) and take a step back, or away, whenever you need to.
I know this may all seem meaningless, I mean the whole point is to eventually move out and not have to deal with all this stuff, right? Yes, and no. You take you, and therefore your experience of family, everywhere you go and into every other relationship you will ever have, including the one you have with yourself. The measurement of success for this is definitely not external, its not about how close your family gets to being your ideal, but internal, its about how you are able to meet the circumstances of your life. You will experience the proof of your success every time something happens that would ordinarily send you into a regressive tantrum yet instead becomes just another teachable moment, even if sometimes you’re the only student in the room. You will experience a greater feeling of being centered & grounded in a strong self, which will serve you well when/if you do eventually move out.
As it is with all of life, this time is precious no matter the difficulty present in it. It is exceedingly rare that you hear our elders speak with regret of having spent as much time with their parents as they did, rare to hear regret for having learned as much as possible from them while they were still around. The media, with its messaging intended to drive the capitalism this country fuels itself on, will continue to tell you that you’re a loser for being in your situation. Just like the beauty industry, its selling you on a lie to feed their pockets. You are exactly where you need to be. Make the most of it & enjoy it as much as you can because should all go according to plan, you will never get this chance again.