You don't have to feel guilty about living with your parents - unless you're not pulling your weight

A multi-generational family at home in the kitchen.
A multi-generational family at home in the kitchen.

I’m 33 years old and still live with my parents.

My sister, who is six years older than I am, also still lives with us. We both have full time jobs and have a great relationship with both our folks and each other.

And yet, when people find out that we still live with them, the questions asked and the assumptions made actually really bother me.

We’ve heard everything from “why aren’t you more independent?” (as if living at home means you’re still attached to your mother’s umbilical cord), to “shouldn’t you be successful and established enough to be able to afford your own place by now?”

Both my sister and I pay a boarding fee, assist with petrol, water and electricity and help with the groceries every month.

It annoys and frustrates me that my knee-jerk reaction to being questioned about living at home is to become defensive – as if I need to apologise for an arrangement that suits both my family and myself for reasons most people doing the questioning have no knowledge of.

Both my sister and I pay a boarding fee, assist with petrol, water and electricity and help with the groceries every month.
 Recently, a story broke about a 30-year old man whose parents had to drag him to court in order to get him evicted from their house. 

According to Buzzfeed News Reporter Tanya Chen, American couple Mark and Christina Rotondo took their 30-year old son, Michael to court after he repeatedly refused to move out of their house following eviction notices.

Now before you think that it’s perhaps a drastic step to take against your own child, Michael has received several notices providing him with ample opportunity to move out. 

In the various notices he received, and details from which one can assume are the biggest reason for their frustration with him, they not only offer him some money to help him find a place to stay, but also provide some helpful advice urging him to get a job.

Matthew Michaels from Business Insider US reports that Michael claims that he hasn’t pursued a career for the past few years because he was busy being a father. He also revealed that he thinks his parents are bad parents.

In the letters it’s clear that Mark and Christina want to offer assistance but their appeals and notices have been flat out ignored. The judge ruled in Mark and Christina’s favour and asked Michael to evict the premises.

There’s clearly a lot to unpack here, but for me the most telling thing is that his attitude reflects that he literally expected to stay with his folks without having to earn his keep. His defensiveness is uncalled for – especially since he appears to have little proof of his inability or incapability to work.

In a bizarre interview with CNN, reporter Amanda Jackson reveals Michael claims that he was never “expected to contribute financially towards the household.”

Firstly, just because someone doesn’t ask you outright (and based on the letters I’ve seen posted I would like to think that Michael’s parents are proactive and clear in what they want), does not mean that you should assume that doing nothing is the automatic status quo of things. 

In my family’s list of unspoken rules, we help each other. 

The fact of the matter is that if I had the means to do so, I would have gotten a place of my own a long time ago.

But considering the cost of rent in Cape Town (and don’t even get me started on the price of property here), it’s just not a viable option for me or my sister to get a place of our own right now.

My colleague and friend, Carmen, is currently hunting for place to stay in Cape Town and it’s proving much harder than she thought because a) places are snapped up very quickly and b) the prices are ridiculously high.

But, not having the means to move out doesn’t mean my sister and I aren’t contributing to the household.

The golden rule is that living with your parents is only rent-free until you come of age.

That we make contributions to a house that belongs to our parents doesn’t make us any less independent than those who are renting a flat. Renting also means that you don’t own the premises on which you live. I’d rather pay money to my parents than to some stranger.

Besides, there’s another thing I enjoy about living at home: I both like and love my parents. They’ve given up a lot for me (took out loan after loan to ensure both my sister and I had access to the best education possible), supported us through our formative years (I remember how they’d sit up and help us to make sense of school projects that needed to be done) and have helped us through times when we couldn’t afford to buy our own necessities.

READ MORE: Here’s how much South Africans are paying in rent

Isn’t it better to live within your means than to try and keep up with the Jones’s by paying rent on a flat you can’t really afford?

Being at home to repay that isn’t a chore, but a means for us to be able to give back in terms of what was invested in our futures.  

Of course, that’s not to say that I don’t sometimes feel like I’m lacking – I think here’s where my defensiveness of living at home comes in – it’s just that the people questioning me and my sister inevitably make us feel as if we haven’t achieved anything with our lives simply because we haven’t left the nest yet.

And it’s hard to shake that feeling when people invariably compare you to those who are able to afford their own place, with money to spare – blind to the fact that things like financial hierarchies in terms of job fields and income earnings are but a few of the factors  that come into play here.

I definitely don’t begrudge those who are financially stable enough to live on their own (or share a flat) – I envy them a little, perhaps, but I would never deny them their right to what I’d like to believe they’ve worked hard for.

But why if we’re so eager to praise them for being successful, are so many so quick to look at those living at home as failures?

Is helping your parents not something worth being proud of? Isn’t it better to live within your means than to try and keep up with the Jones’s by paying rent on a flat you can’t really afford?

There was a time when my parents still had to pay off the house bond – something they weren’t able to do on their own. Had we chosen to live somewhere else, we wouldn’t have been able to help them because the money that would otherwise go into helping with the bond, would have had to go to rent.

And frankly, between choosing to live on my own and being able to, with the help of my sister, to assist my parents – it was a no brainer.

... whether it’s something that’s part of your culture or because of your circumstances, the reasons people live with their parents are often more complex than people assume

And while they still need help, we’ll always be there to make sure nothing happens to them.

The thing is, there are many reasons why young people still live with their parents – assuming that it’s because they’re lazy, entitled and still dependent on their guardians or parents is a fallacy that’s often perpetuated because previous generations have, in many cases, had it easier.

There are so many out there who find themselves in the same position. Globally and locally young folk are struggling to keep up; many choosing to move back home because living on their own is just too expensive.

Buzzfeed featured an article about how furniture stores are targeting the parents of millennials because they are struggling and are increasingly more likely to live with their parents or move back home.

WATCH: Why more and more millenials aren't leaving the nest

Some people also live with their parents because of health reasons.

My aunt, for example, looks after my grandmother because she’s unable to walk after having her hip removed.

Sihle lives with her grandmother and aunt because it gives her a chance to build herself up and to look after her grandma

“My grandma is rather frail and requires care. While my aunt helps her when I’m not there, being able to live with them means it’s not only a good thing for me in terms of helping me get on my feet, but I can help contribute to the household expenses and some of my grandmother’s medical expenses. She’s been a big part of the reason why I could go to school since my mother died, so I want to be able to give something back until I’m ready and able to move out on my own.”

READ MORE: 6 money management tips for graduates

A former colleague of mine, Zakiyah also had this to say:

“I live at home with my family (mother and brother) and that will never change, unless I get married. And even then, I’d want to live within close proximity to them. My dad passed on and as independent as my mother is, she doesn’t drive so depends on me to get certain things done. My brother, 26, is mentally disabled.

“I think people usually refrain from frowning upon the notion that I don’t live independently because of my circumstances. But if I came from a nuclear family where circumstances were different, I’d still choose to stay at home. Sure, the peace of living on your own can be blissful, but I’m a family-person and value every minute I spend with them.

“If people choose to move out of their parents’ home and live on their own, their choice should be respected. Likewise, living with your parents shouldn't be seen as weird or lame. For me, the pros of living with your parents outweigh the cons (in my case, I barely experience any of the latter).”

So you see, whether it’s something that’s part of your culture or because of your circumstances, the reasons people live with their parents are often more complex than people assume.  

Can we just learn to celebrate them as much as we applaud those who are living on their own? Because last time I checked, it’s not a competition.

Do you live with your parents or have friends and family members that do? Share your stories with us – and we’ll feature it in a future article (you can choose to remain anonymous)

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