Last night, in a moment of unfettered irritation, I almost threw a full ladle of soup across the kitchen. It took all of my strength to get a handle on my impulse control – but it was close. The reason? My mother and husband bickering about how the salad should be chopped: in small cubes, Israeli-style (Husband) or into crudités for easy hummus-dipping (Mother). In the end, I chucked the offending parties out of the kitchen and made the diplomatic decision to serve both a bowl of Israeli salad and a platter of vegie sticks. It may seem like a trivial argument in the whole scheme of life, but when four adults (and a baby and a dog) live under one roof, tempers can flare over the tiniest things, and sometimes, innocent food pays the price.
Let me rewind a little. Two years ago, I went on maternity leave around the same time as my husband chose a new career path. Our combined earnings plummeted, and facing a future of financial uncertainty, we made the decision to move into the family home with my parents. I don't think any of us thought that two years later, we’d all still be living together in the family home bickering over fresh produce.
Our living situation isn’t unusual. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Australian Social Trends Report, the increased tendency of children to leave home, only to return again – or to move out much later – shows no signs of slowing down. Rising property prices, the high cost of living and a change in circumstance are all major factors. The probability of a ‘child’ returning to live with their parents at least once before turning 35 is almost one in two (46%). And from a multicultural perspective, living with your parents is often expected.
“In Taiwanese culture, the eldest son is expected to stay at home with the parents, and once he gets married, his wife moves in too,” says Olivia Lee, originally from Taiwan. “Once babies come along, the grandparents look after them while the parents are at work.”
“As the generations change, the mentality regarding living at home with your parents has changed too, but in Macedonian culture, there’s an expectation that you’ll live with your parents and only move out once you get married,” says Zlate Josevski, 28, who currently lives with his mum and dad.
“When you’re Greek, it’s very normal for the kids to live at home, even when they’re well and truly adults,” says Marla Capones. “My 21-year-old daughter still lives with me and I absolutely love it. I can't imagine her ever moving out. I know she will one day, but I only want that to happen when I feel she’s emotionally and financially ready and has a good support network around her. If she wants to move back home at any point, I will always welcome and support her.”
Of course, with several adults under one roof, conflict is inevitable. Although we’ve been together for 15 years, my 38-year-old (English) husband will never get used to my 67-year-old (Jewish) mother insisting he take a jacket out in case he’s cold. It drives him crazy – as an adult who has a fair understanding of how to dress himself in winter – but I can't help thinking how lucky he is to have in-laws that love him so much, a potential Arctic chill is a matter of great concern.
I’ll miss hearing my daughter crawl out of her bed and excitedly toddle off to find her grandmother.
The fact is that one day, we will live in our own home again, just me, my husband, the dog and the baby. And I know when that time comes; I’ll look back at life now through a rose-tinted haze.
I’ll miss hearing my daughter crawl out of her bed and excitedly toddle off to find her grandmother. I’ll miss the energy of living in a colourful, creative household where the soundtrack is laughter. I’ll miss hopping in to bed next to my mum in the morning (baby and dog in tow), as we wait for my dad who brings us tea in bed, every day, without fail.
Granted, my parents are going to miss things too. Probably not the mess I create, that somehow spreads from one room to the next until the carpet disappears beneath mountains of clothes and baby klamotten. Probably not being woken at night by the high-pitched wailing of their sleep-averse grandchild. But there will be something. And we’ll all think how lucky we are to have had this precious time together. There may have been fights about salad, but nothing can break those bonds.
As my dad is fond of saying, “Thanks for coming. Thanks for leaving.”