Living With Your Parents: How to Make It Work
It’s not all bad; it’s also not all good.
Maybe you can’t move out — and shouldn’t. Your parents’ health or finances are failing. They need you, and a wife or husband is non-existent. You know you’re doing a good thing, but it’s still awkward at times.
Regardless of the particulars, how do you make living with parents as an adult work? The good news is that it can be done. In fact, it can be a wonderful season.
It’s Not All Bad
Living with Mom and Dad protects you from some of the drawbacks of living solo. Unless you stay busy with work, church and friends, or have monk-like introvert tendencies, loneliness can be a constant threat. And the lack of accountability increases your exposure to all kinds of temptations. Maybe it’s over-eating or staring endlessly at the TV or Internet pornography. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him.2 Lastly, from a purely financial perspective, living alone is the most expensive way to go. No way to share costs.
But living with your parents also offers advantages over having housemates. For one, housemates are less stable than parents. Housemates can leave you in a lurch, responsible for a greater share of the rent. They can take new jobs and move. They can get married. They can be so busy with their own lives that you feel shut out. Or they consider you a friend, but they’d rather not deal with your messiness or your hyper-cleanliness. In fact, some of you are not living with friends right now for one or more of these reasons. I didn’t marry until I was 30, and I recall making these same kinds of considerations.
Your parents? They’re not going anywhere. They already know what it’s like to live with you. Since they’re not motivated by mutual convenience, they’re more willing to endure your idiosyncrasies. Financially, they probably don’t need you in the way that you need them. They’ve already made it in life (so to speak); they want to help you make it, too. All of this is to your advantage.
What if your parents need you as much or more than you need them? Then that’s one more reason why living with them isn’t all bad. You get to honor them by taking care of them as they once took care of you. Nothing wrong with not denying the faith and being worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).
It’s Not All Good
So if it’s such a rosy picture, why does living with Mom and Dad so easily lead to friction? Because the natural order is being perturbed. A pastor recently told me how satisfying it was to have his kids grown up and out of the home. There wasn’t relational strain. He was just celebrating the milestone. “God has designed this beautifully,” he shared. “When they’re young, you can’t imagine them anywhere else. You hope they never leave. But when they get older, you start thinking, No, you really should leave.” Survey a large number of middle-aged mothers, and you’ll come to the same conclusion: The only thing more painful than a son who leaves the home is … a son who doesn’t leave the home.
God’s design is for our bodies and minds to take a quantum leap forward in our teen years and for that to be the start of a process by which we take our place in adult society — responsible, capable and alongside our parents, not beneath them. We all know this in theory, but it’s harder to put it into practice when both parents and “child” have to overcome interaction patterns deeply ingrained over a pair of decades. Developing an adult-adult relationship is simply easier if there’s some physical separation. It’s easier for Mom and Dad to treat Junior like a co-equal if he’s living somewhere else and paying his own way. And it’s easier for you to not resent your parents if you have your own turf — a domain that’s truly yours and not theirs.
Three Principles for Making it Work
OK, so if you find yourself living with Mom and Dad, how do you maximize the good and minimize the bad? (Sorry for the rhyme.) Here are three principles to consider:
1. Establish a plan to get out.
Granted, this may not apply if you’re taking care of your parents. But you’re probably living with your folks for one of two reasons: underemployment or debt (student loans, mainly). Ultimately, the issue is the same: money. You’re either not making enough of it, you owe too much of it, or both. The economy has been rough for new college graduates and rougher for those without a post-high school degree. You truly need skills and a credential to stand out.
Regardless of your day job, consider your earning power: Are there freelance or side jobs you can pursue to bring in more cash? Even if you’re a full-time student, are there skills you can call upon to maximize your earnings? A few hours of teaching piano lessons or servicing swimming pools can snag you a lot more than minimum wage. Secondly, consider your spending habits: What can you give up to keep another $100-200 per month in your wallet? Small savings add up over time.
A budget and a timeline can be excellent financial motivators. Commit a plan to paper (or Excel), and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you can throw another $5,000 at whatever your debt balance is. If you’re a student, let your graduation date be your milestone. Chances are you’ll be more employable once you get that degree. And if you’ve got a degree, but are underemployed, make sure you’re in a job that has the potential to lead to something better. Be future-oriented, and keep that goal in view at all times.
2. Contribute to the household expenses.
This may seem counter-intuitive. Wasn’t the reason for living at home the desire to save money? I mean, why pay a dime if you don’t have to? Well, two things. One, there’s a whole lot of room between zero and what you’d have to pay for food, rent and utilities living on your own. At least pick up the additional amount your parents are spending for food, water and utilities because of you. Two, contributions can be made in the form of services: In some cases, doing things your folks might otherwise pay someone to do.
Mowing the lawn, raking the leaves, shoveling the snow, walking the dog, and cleaning the house are all things that older and aging parents often “hire out.” Then there are other household chores you can do: shopping for groceries, preparing meals, cleaning up after meals, laundry, taking Grandma to the doctor, and so forth. Any combination of the above can help you “earn your keep.”
The reason this is so important — apart from the fact that it shows appreciation and tangibly helps your parents — is that if you want to be treated like an adult, you need to act like one. You can’t be a free rider. It’s not just how your parents view you; it’s how you view yourself. If you’re trying to get out of debt, land a better job, or otherwise jumpstart your life, passivity is your worst enemy. You must view yourself as someone who, with God’s help, can make a difference. Carrying some of the household weight is good for you. It not only prepares you for the future; it plays a role in making that future happen.
3. Remember that your parents are doubling as landlords.
Get over the idea that you’re being treated like a baby if your parents have household rules. It’s a cop-out. The fact is that your parents are doubling as your landlords. Sure, that can feel weird at times, but try to maintain some objectivity. If you were a boarder in anyone’s home, you’d have to follow the household rules (such as locking the door behind you, entering quietly if it’s after hours, turning off the lights when you leave, and so on).
If there’s ambiguity about what your parents want, write down what you perceive their requirements to be. Then show them the list to see if you have it right. I’ve heard of cases where consequences for infractions are agreed upon — that way any resentment is avoided. It professionalizes the relationship and helps both parties feel like they’re being respected as adults. And it’s a lot like the real world where if your rent is late, your landlord doesn’t nag you. She just tacks on the agreed-upon late fee. Nothing personal. Just business.
While living with parents as an adult has advantages over other arrangements, a prolonged stay often stunts your development, as it becomes too easy to slip back into teenage mode. Honor your parents by having a plan to overcome debt, land a better job, and achieve financial independence so that instead of needing help, you can be the help that others need (see 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12 and Ephesians 4:28). In the meantime, contribute to the financial and other needs of your parents’ household. Fight the free-rider mentality. And show respect for the household rules. Cultivating these habits now will help you immeasurably when it comes time to form your own household.
Copyright 2015 Alex Chediak. All rights reserved.
- “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 5, ed. James H. Burtness and Geffrey B. Kelly; transl. Daniel W. Bloesch (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 110.
About the Author
Dr. Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor and the author of Thriving at College, a roadmap for how students can best navigate the challenges of their college years. His latest book is Beating the College Debt Trap. Learn more about him at www.alexchediak.com or follow him on Twitter (@chediak).