There are three words I've gotten used to hearing in the past few years. They are simple and terrifying and weighted, but I've heard many friends utter them again and again--I'm moving home. When a friend says these three little words, everyone nods and presses their lips together. We smile and offer words of support. "That's smart," we say. "Think of the money you'll save."
In the fall of 2008, I watched one of my neighbors outside of my apartment building in New York, packing up a U-Haul with his mom. We didn't know each other well, but we were friendly because he wore a Cubs hat and my dog's name was Wrigley, so we'd discovered that we both were from the Chicago suburbs. I stopped to chat with him when he was packing, surprised because he'd never mentioned moving. He told me that he'd lost his job and hadn't been able to find a new one. "I'm moving back home for a while until I can figure it out," he said. I told him I was jealous that he'd get to be back in Chicago--we'd both talked often about being a little homesick. He smiled and said, "Yeah, I just didn't think this is how I'd be going back." And then he drove off with his mom.
I pitied him. I really did. How awful, I thought. How embarrassing. And then six months later, the magazine where I was working folded and I found myself in a similar situation. I wondered if I should leave New York, if I should look for another job right away, if I should move home. It was a weird time, because so many people were being laid off. The number of my friends that lost their jobs was amazing. It says a lot that during those months of unemployment, I never had to look far for someone to hang out with during the weekdays. The whole world, it seemed, was being laid off.
At that time, we were in our late 20s, mostly unmarried, and for many people, after job searching for a few months, moving home was the only option left. All of a sudden there was a migration of peers trekking back to their parents.
There were some other reasons that people moved home--I had a couple of friends who finished grad school and couldn't find a job; some were getting married and thought it made financial sense; and one couple wanted to save money to buy a house. Whatever the reason, it became normal to hear that someone was returning to the nest. One by one, people moved right back into the twin beds in their childhood rooms. It was like they were just taking a time out, a breather, a chance to regroup and figure out their next step. No one expected to live there forever, but there was a scary edge to the decision. What if they never got another job? What if one year passed and then another? What if they never moved out again?
Five years later, some of these friends have moved back out and are able to look back at that time with some distance. Some are still at home, in the thick of it, emailing and calling me from the houses where they grew up, wondering, Is this living situation too good to be true, or the worst idea I ever had?
The pros of living at home are pretty obvious. When you ask people to list the good things about it, they respond quickly, "Everything's free." Not paying rent seems to be the biggest bonus of living at home, followed closely by free meals and free laundry. "I can even just throw my dry cleaning in with my parents' and it gets done," one friend said. There's also a big element of support. "It's nice to know that there are people who are willing to help you out no matter what. Like if I get a flat tire, I know that my parents will drive me where I need to go without complaining." Parents are kind of like the super-roommate. Since there is that whole unconditional love aspect to the relationship, you don't feel like you need to hide your bad mood or put your dishes in the dishwasher, like you would for a roommate. "I don't have to worry about being my best self," one friend said. "They know who I am for better or for worse."
Of course, there are some downsides. (I mean, sure Dorothy thought there was no place like home, but she was a teenager and not an unemployed 30 year old.) "The worst part about living at home is telling people that you live with your parents," my friend said. "It's pride sucking." And privacy is a big issue. "I always have to say where I'm going and when I'll be back and who I was on the phone with. There's an expectation of privacy that you gain living on your own that just doesn't apply anymore."
That lack of privacy is never more apparent than when Live-At-Homes try to date. "You know what makes a walk of shame worse than it is already?" one friend said. "When your parents are there to meet you in the morning and they're mad and worried because they didn't know where you were, so you have to explain it--while still wearing the clothes you went out in the night before." That story really sums it all up, I think. When you move home as an adult, you're still not a peer. You'll always be the child, and that's just how it goes.
Even with the complaints about living with parents, all the people I talked to were genuinely grateful that they were able to move back home. I don't think it's anyone's first choice, but it helped a lot of people out. And I have to say, it is nice to know that there's always a place you can go if things go bad. I should note that while discussing this, my husband said he'd rather live in a box than move back home. But if my husband and I found ourselves in a really bad spot, it's comforting to think that we could move in with my parents or his parents and they wouldn't turn us away--at least I don't think they would. We've never actually asked them about it, and I hope we don't need to. But I should mention here that they my parents and my in-laws are four of the finest and most generous people I've ever known. (What? I'm just keeping options open.)