But now, with lockdown stretching out for another month at the very least, and financial insecurity meaning many may have to stay at home on a more permanent basis; that sweet parental setup is starting to look a bit more problematic.
Since Coronavirus hit, countless people across the UK have fled home to their parents. After all, for most, it was the choice between living with your annoying flatmate Sharon who never cleans the shower and always pronounces the ‘l’ in salmon, or running home, where the food is good and your laundry is done.
It was a no brainer.
Missing Sharon now, aren’t you?
The fact is, the number of UK young adults who have moved back in with their parents reached an all time high last year – PRE Covid19 – rising by 46% in a decade to 3.5 million. With the cost of living soaring higher than wages, and home ownership looking more unlikely than Sharon cleaning that shower, our generations were already flocking home.
My boyfriend and I are among that number.
We moved back with my parents as a couple, just under three years ago, to save up for a flat in London. We’ve had highs (laundry!) and lows (your parents are across the hall when you’re having sex!) and have had to navigate the tricky emotional landscape that is sharing a home with fellow adults who used to tell you what to do, and who very much assumed you would be gone by now…
So, TRUST ME, I’ve been there. Allow me to be your WFHWP (that’s Work From Home With Parents) guru. Here are my tips and tricks for multi-generational living for both during this pandemic and beyond….
Whose house is it anyway?
Whilst initially, your parents will be overjoyed to have you home, wanting to spend time with you, telling you to ‘make yourself at home,’ ‘ mi casa su casa’ etc- please be mindful that this is the Honeymoon Phase. Because soon, your beloved parents will realise they unthinkingly invited two whole extra adults to live with them. Adults who eat, make noise, use up water, gas and electricity and take up space. Lots of space.
This is the moment when you have to realise that, no matter how long you stay, and no matter how at home you feel – and should feel – the house belongs to them. Most parents will ask for contributions to bills but few charge you actual market value for rent (otherwise, what’s the point of moving home to save?) so they are doing you a huge favour at the end of the day, and in their house. When you charge through the battlefield that is living with your parents as an adult, make sure you are always mindful of this one very important fact. It might be where you’re living for now, but this is their home.
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries
OK, this is important to establish pretty early on. Make sure you know what is communal space and what is personal space very quickly. Whatever areas of the house you have – that may be just a bedroom or maybe a bedroom and a bathroom- make sure you take autonomy over that space and ensure your parents respect that. Ask them to knock before entering and to respect your privacy, which is important, especially if you have moved in as a couple.
Would you barge into your parents bedroom without asking? No. Ask them to extend you the same courtesy. Trust me…no one needs that sexual therapy bill.
This is easier said than done. A lot of my work Zooms are me muting my microphone and dashing across the room to tell one of my parents they can’t come in. A lot of my phone interviews have a background noise of my mother asking me a question, loudly, and from the kitchen downstairs.
I am creating a sign for my door which tells my parents when I am on a work call or in a Zoom meeting. I have made one for my boyfriend too.
We probably won’t be using that sign to inform them when we’re having sex though, let’s be honest.
Respect the home office
Coronavirus has upended all of our work lives. This means that various family members may be in totally different work situations; from key workers to retired, furloughed, working from home, even unemployed.
In our house, we are both working from home, my father has been furloughed and my mother is retired. This means that, while we are in different parts of the house, doing a 9-5, my parents can easily forget we are not just hanging out at home.
Often my dad wants to know if I fancy watching a film, or playing chess with him- at 3pm on a Tuesday. As much as I want to, I have to remind him that, even though I’m home, and yes, I may still be in my pyjamas at 3pm, it doesn’t mean I’m not at work.
It’s a tough one to enforce – especially at a time like this- but make sure everyone is aware of working hours in the house.
No kidding around
The immediate draw of living at home is sinking back into those comforting childhood routines and patterns of behaviour; where your parents took care of everything. But it’s more than just a case of who does the dishes. Morphing back into your teenage self is not a cute look, and no, I don’t just mean the ill-judged low-rise jeans and pink hair extensions.
Moving home doesn’t mean moving backwards.
You need to find a new relationship groove with your parents, an adult one, where you treat each other as equal housemates. That means you not only have to pull your weight around the house, but they have to recognise that you have moved home as an adult, and adjust their approach accordingly. This means they can’t scold you like a kid for what you’re wearing, or (in a blissful post Covid19 life) what time you get home. No telling off from them, but also no strops from you. No playing loud music and smoking out the window.
Have I made myself clear??
Establishing a two-way street of adult respect in your new cohabitation situ, means you have to do your share of the chores. This is not the blissful childhood utopia of having everything done for you. SOZ.
Just like you would with a flatmate, figure out a system for who does what in the house and try and stick to it. My boyfriend and I are responsible for most of our laundry (certain loads are shared so as to save water #ecopoints) and all of the cleaning and maintenance of our rooms and bathroom. We also frequently cook, not just for ourselves, but for the whole family, do parts of the communal food shopping and, we all collectively have responsibility for emptying the dishwasher and feeding the cat.
Once a basic template is in place, everyone will feel happier that things are fair. What you don’t want your parents to feel, is that you’ve checked into Hotel Parents, and they are doing all the room service.
Remember how annoying it was when Sharon didn’t clean the shower? Don’t be Sharon.
Becoming the Quarantine Jailor…
During this global pandemic, your role may take on a whole new importance in your family set-up. Chances are, your parents are in the vulnerable older category – mine are- and you are therefore responsible for keeping them safe. This changes the dynamic in a big way.
It means really stepping up – taking control of all the shopping, making sure they don’t go out beyond a walk. Basically, you are now their jailor.
If you think this sounds easy, try living with two Boomer parents who do not take kindly to being told what to do. Yesterday, my 70-year-old mother made a jail-break when I was in the shower, to leg it to the shop.
FYI: This is how desperate middle-class mothers are to get to Waitrose.
To make a point, my boyfriend erected a tent in the garden and put air raid siren sound effects and a full mask and gloves on when she came back. He made her come in via the side gate, and sit in the ‘quarantine tent’ to think about what she’d done.
I mean, no one said you can’t have a little fun with it…
Which brings me to my final point. Although there are pitfalls and struggles to living with your parents- and them being forced to cohabit with the offspring they thought they had offloaded long ago.- being with your family right now is priceless. As much as I don’t enjoy chasing my renegade parent down the street when they try and escape to the supermarket, I am lucky I am in a position to keep them safe. Many of my friends are fearful for their older parents who live far away from them, often overseas.
There are also many benefits to living with your parents- beyond the huge financial help it provides. There are family meals, film nights, game nights – all of it rare and comforting time spent together in a time of global panic.
That’s worth more than the highest rent in London.