Ann Sentilles has an interesting post on her blog, The Third Third, about the phenomenon of adult children moving back in with their parents, due to the tough economy. She's writing off a New York Times story, saying it that piece "should, probably make us all stop and think about what we're willing to do under the aegis of 'family' and what's healthy and what's not." See Caught in the Safety Net for the NYT story. Go to the blog section of The Third Third to see what Ann and her readers have to say on the subject.

Come to think of it, I was one of those bratty returnees who lived with (or off) my parents for a period of about six months, long ago. Yes, they provided a safety net, and I would never deny how grateful I was for their support. But, in my case, those few months reflected the most compassionate parenting they ever provided to either me or my brother since our birth, and luckily for me, they did it when I really, really needed it.

The week of my 30th birthday, I arrived at my parents’ home dangerously thin, battered and bruised, carrying my 20-month-old son. It wasn’t my choice to move back in with them, but I had run from a dangerous situation, had no money and no other choices. Believe me, I had already surveyed friends with spare rooms, and no one was willing to take us in. That’s what parents are for, they said.

It wasn’t easy for me to ask for help, since I had fled their home when I was 17 and married – against all their good advice – at 19. Now, here I was knocking on their door. 

At first, living with my folks was like being on a very low-budget vacation. The two of them scurried around trying to make the baby and me comfortable. They let me sleep. They bought a stroller. They showed us around the town they had just moved to, and introduced me to some of their friends. My dad built a sandbox in the back yard. My mother talked about quitting her job, so she could “help with the baby.” 

Mostly, I remember feeling somewhat horrified, like I had moved into an assistant living center and my parents were recreation directors. Thinking back, I realize they both were in their late 50s, and still very much in the workforce. At 30, you don't know much.

For the first few months, my mom and dad provided a room, food and disposable diapers with the understanding that, as soon as I had income, I would pay for my own stuff and chip into the general fund. Until then, I offered to cook and clean, do laundry, run errands, take them to and pick them up from work, and do anything else they needed. I expected them to be happy with that. They weren’t. They let me do the errands and driving, but they didn’t like my cleaning technique or the (organic) food I cooked. So, I just kept out of their hair. 

Soon after my boy and I got there, I went into high gear, knowing our days at their home were numbered. Got a haircut, driver’s license, library card, babysitter, promise of a job, all in the first 6-8 weeks. After that, we left for three months so I could finish graduate school with some money I borrowed from my dad (and paid back as soon as I began teaching the next fall). The baby and I shared a dorm room and ate in the dining hall, while I studied and worked on my master’s thesis. Then, it was back to the folks’ and the start of a full-time teaching job. 

A little over three months into that job, my mother announced it was time for us to leave. She told me this around Christmas, setting February 1 as our drop-dead moving date. I was shocked, but understood their need to regain control over their living space. Not that we were really hard on it. I had borrowed an old car from a friend, took the baby to a babysitter every day (even though my mother had quit her job to help), and made monthly contributions of almost half my paycheck to the food/shelter fund. I thought we were leaving a pretty light footprint, but I guess not. They needed their space. It was understandable. 

Until she died last year, my mother told the story over and over again about how she “almost raised” my son. After all, he lived in their house when he was a baby! 

That’s not how I remember it, but, hey, whatever floats your boat. Thanks, Mom and Dad! 



05/22/2009 13:44

Musings on Adult children.

My comments: I thought that you weren't being honest about that whole scene. And there was an undercurrent there that you still resented your Mom, who said she raised your kid. If that's what her reality of the situation is, why do you seem to belittle it? I frankly think that you were very much blessed to have somewhere to go when you ran away from that guy. Funny how we want to change our perspective of those experiences and make ourselves as independent beings when oftentimes our choices were so limited.

05/23/2009 14:59

Thanks for sharing that story. I too went home and left again for the same reasons as you, I saw it as a stepping stone to my independence. It was the first time in my life I had been totally responsible for myself and that transitionary time back home helped me see just how much I needed to be my own person to recover.

05/23/2009 15:28

Another piece of your life I didn\'t know about. I do remember a time in the summer of 1968 or 1969 when I had been at the B's and Dave told me you were in town, so I dropped in at your parents\' house to see you. You were very thin and unwell and declined an invitation to get together again. At the time I was disappointed, but now it all makes sense. I\'m so sorry you were not able to be open with me, and my heart aches with the burden you were carrying without any support. I salute you now for bringing the shadows out into the light of day.


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