At the beginning of the year, I began exploring the possibility of moving out again. Like many others, a couple of months into the pandemic, I decided it made the most sense to move back in with my parents in Riverside, CA, so that I could brave whatever was ahead with them. Although there were times when things felt a little too close for comfort, I’m so grateful that I was privileged enough to continue to create memories with them throughout all the uncertainty. Two years later, I’m starting to feel a bit of pressure, mostly from myself, to get my own place and pick up where I left off. But then I wonder: Would I be doing it for myself or to prove something to others? It feels as if I’m not adulting correctly if I still live with my parents.
The U.S. has an obsession with individualism and independence. While these are not inherently negative characteristics, too much of either can be harmful. These viewpoints perpetuate the damaging myth that to be successful, you must possess these qualities, and if you don’t, well then you must be failing at something. Moving out of your parents’ home as soon as you can might be portrayed as the norm in the United States, but it’s actually not as common as we think: One in five people in the U.S. live in a multigenerational home. Moreover in many cultures, children rarely leave their homes, regardless of their age or how successful they become. And yet, so much shame continues to exist around this choice.
“If you’re feeling down about living at home, a lot of those negative feelings come from comparing ourselves to other people. We are adopting expectations from other people, and they're not our own,” says Elizabeth Williams, (LPC-S), from Beautiful Mind Therapy in Glendale, AZ. “My biggest piece of advice would be to really center yourself and figure out what your goals and expectations are.” Society emphasizes the ability to rely on no one but yourself, but this belief robs us of the opportunity to be in community and accept support from others.
Independence can create a sense of security and confidence, but there is a lot more to be gained when we turn to interdependence, a term that has been gaining momentum thanks to the disability justice movement. Interdependence is rooted in understanding that none of us can thrive without support. “Interdependence is a natural part of life and we should be striving for that,” explains Minaa B., (LMSW), from Minaa B. Consulting in New York City. Being interdependent means learning to be self-sufficient and self-reliant while having a healthy attachment to other people in your life.
Still, it’s also important to acknowledge that living with family is a privilege and not an option for everyone for many reasons. Some people experience abuse from a family member or have been kicked out of their home simply for being queer. It’s crucial to always prioritize your safety and well-being above all else; even if familismo, which centers unconditional family loyalty, is a core value in your culture.
For those of us that are privileged enough to have a healthy relationship with our families, we shouldn’t have to give up our connection to them because of U.S. standards of success that were never meant to help us thrive. We have lived in community and multigenerational homes forever, and maybe not embracing that has been the problem, not the solution. Refinery29 spoke with four women who share what living with their families has meant to them.
Diosa Femme (she/her/hers), 28, Los Angeles
In my early 20s, I felt like I needed to get my own place because, during my undergraduate years at UC Santa Barbara, I experienced living away from home in an apartment with roommates. It became the norm for those four years of my life. But like so many millennials with student loans and low-paying jobs, it made sense to stay at home.
I live with both of my parents. My primo lived with us for about 10 years and he recently moved out, so he was with us for most of his 20s and 30s, too. My parents are homeowners in Los Angeles, and I help them with the mortgage. They're also seniors. My mom's retired and my dad is older, but still working and living with them makes it easier as their main caregiver.
I like staying connected to my parents, and knowing what they're going through and what they need, especially during the pandemic. I did all the grocery shopping and errands so that they wouldn't have to expose themselves. Assisting them financially is a benefit for all of us. I see my parents' home as my inheritance. LA is so expensive that I realistically won't be able to be a homeowner on my own, so there's an added benefit to me staying and paying down the mortgage, helping with repairs, and taking on the responsibilities of a homeowner even though the house may not actually be in my name yet.
Of course, living with family still comes with its set of challenges. In my family, we're very communal, so if my partner and I want to make a meal together, that means we're having a family meal, which is nice, but there's definitely less alone time or privacy.
There’s this negative association with living with your parents in your 20s and your 30s. There’s this idea that you're less independent, complacent, and not striving for more. But that's not the case for many people in our communities. It’s a U.S. standard that you're successful once you leave the nest and you don't go back, but we define success differently in our cultures.
Marlena Matute (she/her/hers), 31, Queens, NY
When I'm with some of my non-Latinx white coworkers, I say I have roommates, but I don't clarify that it's family because the idea for white America is that living with your parents means you're being provided for rather than you're independent. In reality, we often pay for most things in the home: rent, groceries, utilities. We are roommates; we just happen to be family.
I'm the head of my household. My name is on the lease, and I pay most of the bills. It's a role I've taken on since I was 16. Currently, my household consists of my mother, younger brother, and me. My mother is a single mom who is self-employed and working multiple jobs, but doesn't make enough money to live on her own. My brother works as a temp, so his finances are kind of wonky at the moment. It’s important to me that they're both okay. We were homeless for 10 years when my mother left my abusive father. We had no other family in the U.S., so we really had no place to go.
A lot of my friends who know of my living situation think I’m not allowed to date because I live at home, and that’s far from the truth. There’s also a bit of judgment around my family living with me when I decide to get married. But multi-generational homes have always existed, especially within our communities.
Also, just because I live with my family doesn’t mean I don’t have aspirations for our living situation. Moving into a three-bedroom apartment is my goal right now, a bigger space that’s comfortable and works for all of us.
I really would love for the stigma around living with family to fade away into non-existence. Living with my family doesn’t mean I need to be provided for, it means I’m able to live in unity with the ones I love.
Sara Mora (she/her/hers), 25, Hillside, NJ
Since the pandemic started, I have considered getting my own place, but I'm still thinking about my future plans. I studied diplomacy and international relations, and I’ve considered going back to school but I’m still deciding what I’d like to study, which might make it more stressful if I was living on my own. I don't want to rush having my own place. It's a very U.S. idea to move out early, and I want to fight back against that. I want to live life on my terms. Right now, this means living with my parents, my 23-year-old sister, and my 19-year-old brother.
In the past, I’ve experienced some pressure to move out. It's a little annoying because I think it comes from their privilege and upbringing. I had to realize that I’ll move out when that makes the most sense for me; it's not about what anybody else says. Those who criticize me for living with my family aren’t the ones who are going to pay my bills if I do move out. I'm not going to do it because it's what's expected of me. My goals may look different from theirs. I want to be financially stable enough to help my parents buy their first house in the U.S.
Plus, I have lived on my own, and it's nothing like living with people that you care about. Whenever I’m not home, I miss hearing everyone get ready in the morning and sharing space with them even if we’re not necessarily doing anything together. I cherish the moments when I can do something as simple as watch TV with my parents. My mom is my best friend. I don't care if that sounds corny. I think there's a really loud message on the internet to be on your own, but they also have to talk about what actually happens when you're on your own.
Everyone has a different story, and you don't have to make it anything else to fit the status quo. You're not any less of a badass because you're living with your family, and you don't win an award for following what society expects of you. Time is golden. You don't have to rush to live on your own if that's not what works for you at the moment — or ever.
Yesika Salgado (she/her/hers), 37, Los Angeles, CA
I currently live with my mother, one of my two sisters, and my dog, Mango. We also have my niece and nephew at our house every day after school, so it's as if they live with us, too.
My mother retired after more than 30 years of being a housekeeper in the U.S., and now it's my job to take care of her like she took care of me growing up. It wasn’t a decision that was made, it was just an understanding that, as I’m the eldest daughter, she was going to become my responsibility.
There was a time when I worked service jobs and I didn't know how I was going to provide for her. Fortunately, my circumstances have changed. But even before I was the sole provider for my family, I didn't have the intention to move out because I enjoy coming home to my family and not having to yearn for a home-cooked meal from my mom. My sisters are my best friends, and I love being a part of my niece and nephew’s everyday lives.
My father passed away 12 years ago, and maybe if my mom and dad were together, I wouldn't feel so weird about moving out and going somewhere else because they’d keep each other company. A lot of folks think our elders are disposable. For me, that's not an option at all. My grandmother lived to be 96, and one of her kids always lived with her in El Salvador. That's what I plan to do with my mother. I'm getting ready to buy a home within the next year or two, and I'm looking for a home big enough to live with my mother and my sister.
Even if I was living alone, I'd probably be here all the time anyway. I'm with the people that love me most, and who wouldn't want to live with the people that love you most? I'm not going to lie, it can be difficult. My mom is nosey as hell, but giving back to the woman who made my entire career possible is so much more important than my privacy. At the end of the day, we get to decide what we're willing to compromise and what we're not.
Having a second — or third — culture can be complicated. It can also be a blessing. That’s why we launched Second Gen, a series celebrating the gifts, even the bittersweet ones, passed down from our parents, communities, and cultures.