When I was 15, I told my mother that I was looking forward to college primarily so I could move out of the house.
She took this news as badly as you may have guessed.
First, she was deeply hurt that I wanted to move out. What had she ever done to me, she demanded, that would make me feel this way? “We take good care of you,” she pointed out. “We give you everything you ask for. Why would you want to leave us? I never wanted to leave my parents when I was your age!”
I tried to backtrack and explain that this wasn’t about her as much as it was about me craving independence, but the damage was already done. She quickly graduated from upset to straight up angry, and told me I was dreaming if I thought I was ever going to live by myself.
Her exact words were “You’ll go from this house to your husband’s house to your grave!”, an expression which freaked me out at the time but now seems pretty funny.
[bctt tweet=”‘You’ll go from this house to your husband’s house to your grave!'”]
In fairness, though, my mother is actually a reasonable and super cool person, and when the time came for me to pursue my ambitions away from home, she was my number one supporter.
But the whole experience highlighted one of those major cultural and generational shifts that often challenge the expectations of both children and parents in immigrant or minority households. I, as a second-generation American, assumed that I would leave my parents’ home at 18 and go on to have the quintessential American college experience a la Rory in Gilmore Girls; my parents believed very firmly that at 18 I was too young to even drive by myself, let alone live by myself, and that I would commute to college so they could keep an eye on me and make sure I didn’t end up on drugs, just like their parents did with their 18-year-old selves.
[bctt tweet=”I thought I was going to live my college life #GilmoreGirls style. My parents had other ideas. “]
They weren’t wrong. Eighteen is pretty young to be thrown out into the wild to fend for yourself, a fact most 18-year-olds will only understand when they are 22. Living at home, as a cultural standard for both men and women in countries all over the world, also has major advantages that make living alone, especially if your parents are nearby, seem counterintuitive. After all, why pay for rent, groceries and other expenses in a tiny apartment when you could be living in the relative comfort of your family home and saving that money for the major expenses that will inevitably come up in your young adult life – marriage, buying a house or a car, pursuing further education.
And even if your parents need you to pitch in financially, their house is probably nicer than anything you could afford.
Also, living alone gets lonely. Not at first. At first, it’s the most amazing thing that has ever happened to you. You come home whenever you like, put your feet up on the coffee table just because you can, and do whatever you feel like doing. Want to listen to music and dance like an idiot? Do it! There’s no one around to mock your terrible dance moves! Not feeling up to doing the dishes? Leave them! No one’s around to complain!
Take it from me though, eventually the novelty wears off. As someone who needs alone time on a daily basis in order to function like a normal human person, I found that there were days were living alone was almost oppressive, and I would wander around campus aimlessly just to put off going home to an empty apartment. It didn’t help that I never feel like doing the dishes, which eventually became a problem. Those things pile up like nobody’s business.
You could always get a roommate, of course. Then again, if your parents are within reasonable driving distance, why would you live with someone whose habits are sure to infuriate you when you could live with your family – whose habits will also infuriate you, but at least you’re going in prepared. Case in point: I love my brother deeply. This is why, when I find his socks littered all over the house like breadcrumbs in the woods, I limit my retaliation to simply screaming at him to pick up his damn socks. If I didn’t love him, I would probably gather up all his socks and set them on fire in the backyard. It would probably take him a while to notice, but when he did you can bet it he would not take it well.
Now that I’ve tried both living situations and am back at my parents’ house, I can better appreciate their point of view when they encourage me to stick around (although they seem to be showing a keen interest in my marriage prospects, a not-so-subtle hint that they’re ready for me to move on). Eventually though, I know that I have to take wing and fly from my parental nest. Not necessarily to get married (and hopefully not for the other reason), but because I believe that young adults need that space to become their own person, to grow up and be just “adults.” Space to run their own lives, make their own schedules, cook their own food, and learn the hard way that dishes won’t clean themselves.
[bctt tweet=”Living alone creates space for young adults to become just ‘adults.'”]
The time I spent living alone changed me. It made me more grateful for the comfortable home my parents have always provided for me, but it also pushed to grow up, to make decisions that were wholly my own without the crutch of parental support to fall back on. I may not be any better at making decisions than I was before – if anything I think I might actually be worse – but at least now I know that I can make decisions, and even if they don’t work out I can still push myself back up.
But it’s nice to know that my parents are hovering in the background, ready to lend a hand when I really need it.