7 people; 1 bathroom: Learning to love moving back in with my family

Guest post by Grace Hardy

Living with your entire family in a small space can be awesome. (By: Ben GarneyCC BY 2.0)
I love my family very much, but when I moved away in 2006 I wasn’t looking back. I loved the freedom and thrived on being independent. I moved from place to place, and lived with all kinds of different and exciting people. Until, eventually, my husband and I had enough money to live just the two of us in our dream home. It wasn’t much by a lot of people’s standards, just a one bedroom flat in North London but to us it was perfect.

Every week we’d buy a little something new for the house, we’d throw dinner parties, we’d have our friends to stay at the weekends. I did all the cooking, he did all the cleaning; marital bliss! At one point I was such a domestic goddess I was baking a loaf of bread from scratch every day. Each evening we’d sit in our front room, light the many candles we’d bought, and talk about how much we loved our home.

Then financial disaster struck. We were spending more money than we could afford, and the debt was piling up fast. Our bank account was like a bucket with a giant hole unable to be filled.

How did I react? I ignored it. I couldn’t face the fact that our beautiful, simple lifestyle was not sustainable. One day my husband came to me, almost shaking with fear and said “Grace, we can’t live here anymore. We’re going to have to move back in with your parents.” I couldn’t ignore the hole in the bucket any longer.

Before I carry on, I want to point out how lucky I am — lucky to have parents that would bend over backwards to make sure we were okay. Parents who, although they have nothing much themselves, do everything in and beyond their power, for us. The reality is, without their generosity, eventually my husband and I would have been homeless. I am, always have been, and always will be, eternally grateful to them. But in the moment when I realized that my whole life was about to be packed up in boxes, and my marriage was about to be squeezed into a 5-by-5 bedroom, I’m ashamed to say I felt pretty damn hard done by.

It’s not just any old home I found myself crawling back to, nearly 18 months ago. It is a very tiny, very full home with an eclectic cast of characters. There is my mother: a hippy at heart, bathroom mural-painting, home-educating, raw food-eating Matriach. My Father: the joke-cracking, conservative-voting, temper-tantruming, loud music-loving Patriach. There is my elderly grandmother with very late stage Alzheimer’s. My actor/musician brother and his actor/musician girlfriend, both in similar financial straits. There is my wonderful-but-shy husband, whose ideal lifestyle would be spent in almost total isolation a million miles away from any living human, preferably on an uninhabited planet where I could visit every so often but never for longer than an hour. And me: the world’s most difficult person to live with! I work mostly in comedy, and like all comedians, I am in constant need of attention, praise, and worst of all reassurance — like some sort of praise-eating leech.

This behavior increases whenever my pride takes a knock, and when I moved back home my pride was knocked so far out of the park it seemed to me it would take a lot of leeching to get it back. For the first few months of living back home I was horrible. I’d stay in my room for days on end feeling worthless. And when I came downstairs I would pick fights without meaning to, and leave nothing but misery in my wake.

There were lots of practical concerns that made living at home difficult. We only have one bathroom. There isn’t enough space for us all to sit in one room comfortably. I have to take an active role in caring for my grandmother, including running through the streets shouting her name when she’s disappeared, and cleaning and changing her. But none of this was the real problem.

What really got me down was a sense of failure. I thought living with my parents again, in my late-twenties, was a sign that I’d taken the adult test and been given a big red F! I was angry with myself and took it out on everyone else.

Time is a great healer. One day I stopped berating myself. Living with my parents again wasn’t the way I’d planned things, but it wasn’t a disaster. I looked around and realized that I was surrounded by people who made me laugh, who loved me, who, despite everything, wanted me there! We were a community and maybe that was something I could take a new sense of pride in. We were successfully looking after one another. Three generations living under the same roof and sharing a life together.

It’s not always perfect but when is anything ever perfect? I won’t always live like this. My brother and his girlfriend will be moving on soon and, hopefully my husband and I will be back on our feet before long too. But — and I never would have believed this possible when it first happened — there is something magical about this time. This chaotic, rough and tumble, getting in each other’s way, dancing desperately outside the bathroom, nothing’s ever tidy for long, call the police Grandma’s disappeared again, why are people playing the guitar at four in the morning lifestyle is weirdly wonderful.

Now I don’t just know I’m lucky somewhere deep down — I feel lucky!

Comments on 7 people; 1 bathroom: Learning to love moving back in with my family

  1. good for you for the attitude shift. i totally understand the ‘before’ perspective. 🙂

    i am sure that isn’t easy (for anyone), but it’s wonderful that you are all working it out.

  2. I don’t know for others, but I’ve noticed that the only times I really miss are not the ones I was happiest, but thoes that I did not realise that they where a blessing in disguise so did not fully appreciate them. Go you for seeing the hidden gift!!!

  3. Thanks for sharing! I can totally relate: after grad school, I moved back in with my parents, figuring it was a short-term (aka, a few months) arrangement. Those few months went by, my fiancé and I married, and the months ticked by…It was killing me that I hadn’t found a job in my field and that my husband and I couldn’t afford to live on our own (because, well, it would have been hard enough anyway, but try paying for student loans for two who also did grad school and then also covering rent and utilities when the only work you can find pays only a few dollars over minimum wage).

    It was typically just the two of us and my parents, but at times, the house seemed very cramped and lacking in privacy, just because we all had different lifestyles and eating habits, but wanted to enjoy time together, including meals. Overall, it was like living with another set of roommates, as opposed to a parent-child dynamic, so that was nice, but it still wasn’t easy. Probably one of the hardest parts was that there is only one full bathroom (as the washroom in the basement is mostly unfinished and not terribly pleasant to use), so we got our “potty dance” on quite often, especially when someone took too long in the shower.

    For a long time, I struggled with depression as I, too, felt as though I had failed–I was a freakin’ master’s graduate, married, and STILL had to live at home with mommy and daddy to pay the bills. Eventually I came to realize that really, this kind of situation is becoming extremely common and even normal, especially here in the US among young college graduates. Ideal? Not necessarily, but it certainly wasn’t the end of the world.

    By our second anniversary, though, my husband landed his dream job, we moved, and now I have part-time work in my field. We now live two hours away and have a busy schedule, so we don’t end up visiting as often, and mostly catch up on the phone.While we’re happy here, I do miss the time that I had with my parents, as well as the peace of mind being able to look out for them and help out around the house. Sure, they drove me up the wall at times, but it was nice having someone else to talk to, to share our days and to do things together. I think it really helped to strengthen and develop my relationship with my parents on a more adult level that really wasn’t there before.

    • Wow it’s like reading my own life! Loving that you had a “potty dance” too! Also great to hear from being on the other side of it all too. Nice to know that you even miss that way of living sometimes! It’s so weird to say but I know I will miss it one day. I mean I’ll be glad to be out for so many reasons but there’s a part of me that almost doesn’t want to move on… almost!

      • Yes, I am an expert “potty dancer,” from years of having to share with others who love long showers and putzing in the bathroom *cough-Dad-cough-cough*. In all fairness, I caused others to work on their dance routines, too…

        Yeah, I do miss it. I miss spending time with my parents and how often I was able to see my sister’s family (who often come to visit my parents) who live on the other end of the state. (My parents conveniently live in between.) Sure, living there drove me nuts, and it’s still chaotic if everyone is there at the same time–my parents, my husband and me, and my sister, brother-in-law, and two nephews, but I miss seeing everyone regularly and sharing in so many events and experiences together. You will definitely think back fondly on a lot of memories from your time together if/when you do move. (I hope I’m not making assumptions here, but it sounds like overall you get along well and are having a positive experience.)

  4. I think the most saintly part of this is the one bathroom. I’m currently living with 6 friends (7 of us altogether), but I think if we were relegated to 1 bathroom only we would have killed each other a long time ago.

    • I once lived in a house with 8 friends and two bathrooms… that was pretty tough. Especially when our top bathroom kind of exploded and leaked through the floor into the room below… which just happened to be my bedroom. Ahhhh the joys of communal living!

  5. The timing on this post is insane. I just (beginning of the week) moved back in with my parents. The life I had been building fell apart when my long-time relationship dissolved, and suddenly I found myself trying to fit my 26-year-old life back into my high school bedroom.

    It’s four of us again, just like it was in high school, in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom house. My little brother is also living at home (and has been for the past two years), and he and my parents have already worked out a system. I’m an awkward addition to that, especially since I’ve lived on my own or with a roommate/significant other for the past eight years. We’re working through it, but we’re all tripping over our feet attempting to find ways to get along in these new, close quarters. It would be difficult even without the emotional baggage I’m lugging around right now.

    I totally get that feeling of “failure” too. I moved out to go to college, and it was a point of pride that I was able to transition from college to “adult” life without stopping over at home between the two (I graduated in 2009, and the vast majority of my classmates did move back home initially because there were so few jobs at the time). And now, here I am back here.

    I really hope that, in time, I can come to find the good things, the sense of community, in this situation like you have.

    • I feel for you SO MUCH! The first few weeks is the hardest! As you said it’s one thing to make a life adjustment but its even worse when you’re going through emotional upheaval as well! All I can say is if it can improve for me it can improve for everyone! I was such a misery when I moved back in and now I’m really and truly happy! Don’t be surprised if you fall into some teenage patterns at first! I definitely did. 2 things we must remember 1. we aren’t failures 2. Soon this will all be a distant memory! 🙂

      • EXACTLY THIS!!! Yes, it is hard to adjust to the change, especially if you’re used to doing things your way, but in the end, you will all most likely find a way to make it work for as long as it needs to work. While it can be extremely frustrating, you should never feel like a failure. Instead, focus on how fortunate you are that you have a home to go to, with people who love you and welcome you to stay.

        A small bonus, in a way, of living surrounded by boxed possessions for two years was that I became extremely skilled at making things stack and fit in a way that gave us the maximum amount of space to move around. My childhood bedroom managed to fit way more boxes than I had imagined possible, and we only realized how many there were when we started moving them into the living room in the week or so before we moved. None of us could really believe that they had all come from the bedroom!

        But really, you find a way to make it all work. Some days you want to strangle people (figuratively, not quite literally) and you might end up having a few arguments as you figure out how to work with the new arrangements–and what your role is in the house. In the end, I hope that the experience proves enriching for you.

  6. I moved in and out of my parents’ house several times as a young adult. Most of the transitions were fine, but it was definitely challenging the one time it felt like I was moving there out of a failure in my own life. I didn’t want to be there and it was hard on all of us.

    Did anyone else see the study released yesterday? At age 27, more Americans are living with their parents than with roommates.

    • You know it’s funny because I see that more and more! When I moved home I thought it was really unusual but I have noticed more and more people I know and come across living with their parents again. This is especially noticeable because I was living in London. Young people are being priced out or forced to live in horrible conditions. The only people I know that live comfortably on their own in central are people who have someone to help them out financially. But then I am an actress and tend to know mostly struggling artist types. Perhaps if I were a banker I’d notice different patterns.

  7. *sigh* I’ve been living with my inlaws for a year next month and it’s been hard on all of us. We’ve got our own bathroom, but it’s still six people in three rooms with one bathroom over the heads of two older adults. Trying hard to not feel like a failure.

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