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Articles & Interviews
I'm Moving Back Home (And I'm Not Sure How I Feel About It)

Moving Home

After high school I traveled for a few years. During that time, I never had my own place. I lived with friends and other various roommates. I was not a fully independent adult yet, but I was learning to work and earn my own money, figuring out how to live with people who weren’t my family, and having a lot of great adventures.

My First Return to the Nest

The first time I moved back to my hometown, I decided to live with my mother and stepfather. I don’t remember having any expectations, but if I did, I probably expected that it would be just like it was when I lived there before: I would have a free place to crash, I would be able to come and go as I pleased, I would be free to watch TV anytime I wanted, and – the big one – I would not have to contribute to the household—meaning cooking, cleaning, and other general household chores and upkeep.

For me, the biggest challenge was my automatic reversion to old, not-so-responsible-adult habits. It's surprisingly easy to slip back into the routines of sleeping late, not washing your own dishes, and not letting anyone know you’re going to stay out all night. And two of the biggest reasons for backsliding in the “good housemate” department are familiarity and history. Though everyone's situation is different, and some parents and stepparents of young adults hold higher expectations for teenagers than my family did when I was growing up, the transition from helpless child to grown-up housemate still presents challenges for a lot of us in our 20s.

When young adults move back home, our parents expect us to be aware of and responsive to general household rules about upkeep and expectations. We are, they think, ADULTS, after all. But to us, it feels like: “Hey, Mom, you took care of me for 18 years… why are you suddenly mad that I borrowed your Patagonia rain jacket or hurt that I didn't wash my coffee mug after I used it???” Many of us are still not fully functioning adults in our early 20s, and we still need a little nudge to remember that we’ve got to help out around the house, ask to use the car, and respect our parents’ and stepparents’ boundaries, privacy, property, and house rules.

Choosing Between Parents

When moving back home, I had to figure out which of my parents’ homes I would live at—a choice I made based on proximity to my job (and my boyfriend), how I was getting along with that parent and stepparent at the time, and what each parent/stepparent had going on in their home when I needed a place to stay. For example, crashing at my dad’s when the kitchen was being remodeled would have been stressful for everyone, and me coming home in the middle of the night might not have been a great example for my half-sister when she was a pre-teen.

Location is a big consideration, and important to us young adults. We're uprooting our lives, moving home, and changing all of our external circumstances; we want to live in a location that works for us. Sometimes we choose to live in the house we spent time in growing up, regardless of which parent now owns it. Comfort and familiarity make a temporary living arrangement feel more like home to young people who don’t have a home of their own yet—or who have had to give one up.

While I get along well with both of my remarried parents and their partners, I had a shorter commute and a more compatible living experience with my mom and stepdad, so it made sense for me to live with them more often. Parents, please remember: this doesn’t mean we like one parent less or more than the other. It just means there's a compatibility factor involved, and we are choosing the smoothest direction at a time when lots of things aren’t so smooth for us.

While there are always smaller (and sometimes silly) personal reasons for making our decisions on which house to move back to, the biggest reasons are usually practical.

Communication is the Key

I think that when a young adult moves back home, communication is key. And who you're communicating with matters a lot for 20-somethings with stepparents. As a young adult, I have always found it easier to talk about issues/problems with my parents, instead of my stepparents.

But…If one of my parents or stepparents has a problem with how things are going, I've always appreciated hearing it directly from the source. If my stepparent has an issue with me/something I'm doing, I want to hear about it from them, rather than them passing it along to my parent to talk with me about. However, if I’m doing or not doing something that’s a problem/issue for both of them, I want to hear about it from both of them.

Parents and stepparents can have different standards, and they won't always see eye to eye, especially when it comes to children/young adults living at home. And as a young adult living back at home, I don't want to hear about a problem from one parent/stepparent, and come to find out its not a problem for the other one, or that the other partner thinks about the issue differently from their mate.

As young adults, we want to feel like our parents and stepparents are united, or at least that they’re aware of where their differences lie. When our parents and stepparents approach us this way, it saves everyone frustration, confusion, and misunderstanding, and it helps us all keep calm and do better together.

The Temptation to Backslide

Young adults, whether their parents are strict or lax, divorced or still married, are at risk of slipping back into our old “kid” roles and teen behaviors when we move back home with our parents. My advice to parents and stepparents? Be patient. Don’t take it personally—we just have different standards. And reminders really do help.

And my advice to young adults moving back home? Step up. Look at it from your parent(s) and stepparent(s) point of view—you’re kind of crashing their life when you move back. Try to live up to their standards wherever you can, and try to remember that their standards are probably higher than yours. When you do backslide, own it and fix it.

Why Having Divorced Parents Makes Moving Home Harder

There are so many questions and considerations that young adults of divorced parents have when moving back home – which house/parent/stepfamily to choose and why, thinking about different parental relationships, the relationships between mom/stepdad and dad/stepmom, what will make this a smoother transition, and practical considerations like, “Who lives closest to where I work and/or go to school?

In addition to the usual young adult challenge of having to make these big decisions for ourselves—such as the decision to move back home—we also have to worry about hurting our other parent’s feelings. Will they think we don't love them as much? Will our stepparents think we don’t like them? Do our step-siblings feel disappointed when we don’t live with them? Even our most distant or difficult relationships matter, and when you’ve got two families, there are a lot of people to think about when we choose where to live.

Happy Parents Make a Difference

I was lucky with my situation – my parents both found partners who make them happy. They didn't fight in front of my sister and I, they never talk badly about one another to us, and they are able to work together on our behalf. But not everyone has it this good, and many young adults face a storm of old feelings, fights, and bitterness when they return home. This is unique to young adults of divorced and remarried parents, and not something most young adults with still-married parents have to deal with. We have our own set of rules and experiences that we navigate by, and all of it comes with us when we move back home.

When parents and stepparents are happy, it makes us young adults feel better about moving back home. As I mentioned before, we're uprooting our lives and changing our circumstances, and we want to land in a place that is at least relatively calm. If we move back home and our parent and stepparent are bickering all the time, it creates a stressful environment for everyone. Of course arguments happen – but if things are generally calm, us young adults are more likely to participate in family activities, help out around the house, and spend more time at home.

Practice Makes…Better

When I moved back home the first time, I didn't act like an adult. After a year at home, I moved out and went to college – but I still returned home every break and every summer to work, living at my mom's house. After five years of moving away and moving back home, I've had a lot of experience at returning to the nest as a young adult. Fortunately, my family and I figured out some things along the way that helped make my stay—and all my future move backs—work more smoothly for everyone.

The big difference the second time around is that I'd already returned to the nest once, so my mother, stepfather, and I had some idea of what to expect. Another important difference was that my stay was for a predetermined amount of time. The biggest change though, was that my mom and I discussed and agreed on some ground rules ahead of time. It may sound silly or even counterintuitive—house rules for a 20-something?—but it helps everyone in the house relax when they know what the expectations are and how to meet them.

My mom made it clear that I would need to help out with dishes, spend some real time at home with her and my stepdad, and let them know when I was going to stay out overnight, for example. I needed her to sometimes remind me to help out around the kitchen. This wasn't because I didn't care, but because I was 21, and if it were my home, I wouldn't worry so much about dishes. It's also because of the reverting to old habits thing I mentioned before.

Over the next 4 years whenever I moved back home for summers and college breaks, these rules/guidelines became more second nature. They made more sense to me, I didn't need as much reminding, and living together was smoother for everyone.

 

If you're a young adult moving back home, try and remember that it's not only your life that will be changing. Your parents/stepparents have developed new routines and systems since you've been gone from the nest, and it's important to think about how your coming home affects them. If you're a remarried parent or stepparent, try and remember that even though your child is a young adult, they're not a fully independent, fully functioning adult yet. They're still trying to navigate a lot of uncertainty in their lives, so give them enough space to keep learning who they are. 

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