Homeward Bound

June 25, 2004
by Marc B. Zawel

You’ve taken the exams, donned the cap and gown and received that coveted diploma. You’ve graduated. Congratulations! Now what?

Well, if you’re like many recent grads, you’re moving back home. With the parents.

Employed or not, we’re returning in hordes, to the land of endlessly stocked fridges and beds larger than twin extra long (hopefully, at least). But leaving the independence of college and returning home is difficult for many — strolling in at 3:30 in the morning with a bunch of buddies for after-hours isn’t really going to cut it any more. How to strike the balance, though, in which you’re happy at home and your parents aren’t ready to kick you to the curb (or strangle you, for that matter)? That is the question, my friends.

But first, why return home?

Well, for many of us, that answer is simple enough: There was nowhere else to go. With or without a salaried job, living on your own is damn expensive. There’s rent, utilities, food, Internet, cable. It all starts to add up. So unless you’re one of the lucky few working on Wall Street next year, chances are unlikely that you’ll be able to afford living on your own, at least in a place that isn’t a cardboard box.

And this doesn’t even account for the countless grads who can’t afford the cardboard box: the unemployed. As a graduate, I’m able to attest that despite what analysts have predicted, the job market was abysmal again this year (including for yours truly). This means moving back home, at least until someone starts hiring us liberal arts majors again. (Dot-com anyone?)

I’ve been back home now for almost three weeks, and to tell you the truth, it hasn’t been half bad. I’m keeping myself busy, basically by selling all of my old belongings on eBay to make some spending money, and then doing a lot of traveling and reuniting with old high school friends. I’m respectful of my parents’ home, which means picking up after myself, not coming home when my dad is leaving for work at 8 a.m. and asking my friends not to call my house phone too late at night. It’s worked out pretty well. And as long as I’m looking for work (as opposed to waking up at noon and loafing on the couch all afternoon), my parents seem to be OK with me being here.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case with other friends of mine. My friend Steve graduated last year and immediately moved home.

“It was an OK experience for the first couple of days, but after that, it became a nightmare,” he recently told me. “All of a sudden, my parents thought I was 5 years old again and had to know where I was at every second.” Not a great situation for a 22-year-old guy. “They were treating me like a little child, telling me to be careful with everything I did and wanting to know every detail about what I was doing.” A year later, Steve is still at home, but not by choice. “I’m only planning on living at home until I have some money saved up, or am earning enough of a salary that if I do move out, I’m not living paycheck by paycheck.”

Other more recent grads, however, seem to be doing better. My friend Caroline, who leaves to study in London in August, told me “the experience has been good so far.” She’s been working a lot to save up some money, “not leaving much time to butt heads with the parents.”

Caroline is not a “very difficult” person though: “I do what I want and they are fine with it. I haven’t been going out much, though, so there isn’t really any ammunition for a fight.” And since she’ll be leaving in August for over a year, Caroline wanted to be with her family this summer. “They know I won’t be around much longer,” she said. “And since I’m they’re favorite child, they want to be nice to me.” Well, that might be pushing it.

Similarly, my old housemate Mike has just retuned home to Pennsylvania, and seems to be adjusting well.

“My parents are pretty easy going, and I haven’t had any major arguments with them. Because I’m moving back in with them, they expect me not to be a lazy slob. So as long as I put my dishes in the dishwasher and I’m not messy, we get along just fine.” Like Caroline, Mike has future plans already lined up — he begins training for his job later this summer. “Living at home saves me a ton of money on food and rent, and I’m able to see some old high school friends,” he said. The downside? “It’s going to be just a bit weird in the morning if I happen to bring a girl home with me from the bar.”

Three graduates living at home, three different experiences.

So far, I’ve learned that the key to transitioning back home is three-fold.

First, most importantly, respect the rules. In case you haven’t realized, you’re no longer living on your own. So, if Mom wants your dirty clothes in the hamper, put your dirty clothes in the hamper. Simple enough.

Second, do something with your life. A couple of my friends have future plans lined up. If this is the case with you, then lounging poolside for a couple weeks (or months) should be alright. But, if you’re like me and don’t have a gosh darn inkling of an idea of what the future will hold, you should make it clear to your parents that you’re actively pursuing something. Going out every night until the wee hours of the morning and then sleeping all day won’t be appreciated by your parents (at least, not for long). So, even if you throw them complete bullshit, at least give off the perception that you’re trying to figure out your future.

Finally, offer to contribute or help. Your parents have now taken on your financial burden … again. The least you can do is take out the garbage, pick up the drycleaning or wash the deck. Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass. But think about it for your folks: So is having you back home.

Follow these three simple rules, strike the balance, and you might very well find happiness living back home. Well, for now at least.

When he’s not out ‘til 3:30 in the morning or picking up his dirty clothes to please his mom, Marc Zawel is busy completing a college guidebook on the Ivy League, to be published by College Prowler this October. For more information, visit www.marczawel.com.

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