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When I was 35, I moved back in with my mother because I had nowhere else to go. It’s not anybody’s first choice – but sometimes needs must.
I had been living in Britain for some years, studying and working. When I finished my PhD, I was broke and unemployed, so I decided to go home to Waterloo, Ont., to save some money.
I moved in in late spring thinking I would be leaving by autumn. And I did leave in the fall, only not that same fall – it took me a year and a half to get back on my feet and out the door.
It was an ugly time. I was completely despondent. Job prospects were few and far between, I had no friends left in my hometown, and my student debt was crippling.
But I survived, and now I’m in full-time employment. I even have an apartment.
For anyone else facing a return to the parental nest, here’s some advice to help you level the playing field with your parents, who will likely have read several self-help books on the topic.
The best defence is a good offence, so remember:
1. Your parents are still crazy. Adapt or perish.
All the annoying habits they used to have that drove you crazy have not gone away.
My mother is filled with boundless enthusiasm for the day the moment she wakes up. I cannot acknowledge the beginning of a new day until I’ve had a coffee. She knows this, but it does nothing to dampen her spirits. As I am sipping my coffee at the kitchen table in the morning, she will launch into a list of Items of Great Importance, and require my input on all of them.
I have learned to smile and nod as my mother recites this list. It is an invaluable skill that has proven useful now that I am gainfully employed again. I smile and nod the same way to my boss.
2. The idea of living rent-free is a lie. You will pay.
They may not charge you in dollars for your room and board, but that lunch still isn’t free.
You are now the Ministry of Technology. You will be asked to fix the computer or Internet or television or phone. Remember when they used to phone you to ask how to fix technology, and you screened their call? Karma sucks. Fix whatever they want.
If your parents are like my mom, they will also want to show you off. They have spent a lot of time, energy and money on you and they want a good return on their investment.
It may seem cruel of them to drag you around to parties when you’re at such a low point in your life. But your parents don’t see it that way. They think you’re brilliant.
Do not disabuse them of this notion. You need to keep them sweet. Finding a job may take longer than expected, so you turn up at that neighbourhood pool party and you bring your A material. Your job is to make your parents look good.
3. Communication is key.
Your parents aren’t mind readers, they don’t realize how annoying they are unless you tell them.
My mom and I started writing a blog together as a slightly passive-aggressive way of airing our grievances. When you’re feeling wronged by your parents, there is nothing like having randoms from the Internet on your side. Especially when they are parents themselves.
4. Do not get comfortable. The longer you stay, the harder it is to leave.
It sounds impossible, but be forewarned: You may be lulled into a false sense of okayness with your situation.
If this happens, remember these two words: Stockholm syndrome.
When I lived at home, my mother did the cooking, cleaning, laundry and everything else. At the time, it was nice. Hell, it was great. I didn’t have to do anything. But this is a slippery slope. The more you let your parents do, the quicker you will revert to your 19-year-old self. You will not like that person.
Getting comfortable also gives your parents a false sense of security. When the joyous day comes that you are ready to return to the Real World, your parents will get weepy. Fact.
It matters not how much they grumbled that you were leaving teacups all over the place, and making a mess in the kitchen at strange hours, or that your stuff was in the way of everything. The second you have a way out, they will come up with reasons for you to stay.
When I moved out, my mom was hurt. She took it personally. And it was hard to leave. I mean, who wants to cook and clean if they don’t have to?
If in doubt, remember the first day of school and act accordingly. They told you they loved you and wished you the best, and then they left you there. If it was good enough for you, it’s good enough for them.
Once you’re on your own, being a proper adult, remember this: Your parents liked having you around. They got to see you all grown up, even though you weren’t feeling like that. They are proud of you and they really do think you’re the best.
So, when you’re next visiting them, remember that. It may not have been the best of times, but it could have been worse.
Gillian Best lives in London, England.
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