The Achiever

How to Survive a Graduate’s Worst Nightmare

Alex Webb
Life After Graduation

After years of blazing your own trail at university or college and loving life living on your own or with roommates, you finally graduate and the whole world seems to be at your feet… until you realize your finances are in tatters.

All that independence, the cost of school, and maybe a little soul-searching travel adventure or two as taken its toll on your savings account, and all of a sudden you see how much more life costs without a student discount.  With relatively few options until you find that dream job you’re searching for, you make the financially sensible decision that fills every independent young professional with a similar sense of dread… you move back in with your parents.

Fear not, broke young graduate, this experience does not have to be so terrible, and can, in fact, help you establish a new relationship with your parents as a responsible, adult human being instead of the adorable 10-year-old or sullen teen they still kind of see you as. Here are 5 ‘rules’ to follow to make a return to the nest far more bearable:

1. Clear out all your old crap.

Use the time you have before you find your own place and move on to the next step in your life to get rid of all the junk that you haven’t touched since you moved out 4 years ago. It not only gets it out of the way for when you finally do get back out on your own, but it also shows your parents that not only are you growing up and moving on in life (giving them permission to finally throw out that ugly clay ‘pot’ in the living room that you made them in the second grade), but also that you respect the space as theirs. It indicates that you are only there in the capacity of an adult with the things you need and use, and not as a child where you and your stuff is the focal point of the family dynamic.

2. Pay “rent”.

Paying rent indicates again that you are viewing the situation as a temporary one, and shows that you are willing to take responsibility for and work to fix your financial woes. It allows you to retain some of the ‘independence’ you are used to because you are not simply folding back into the dependent relationship you had with your parents before you moved out the first time. No money at all? No problem. You can still pay ‘rent’ in other ways, using the skills you developed while living on your own. Offer to repaint the kitchen, clear out the garage, weed the garden, stain the deck, watch your younger siblings, etc. Things that go above and beyond the typical ‘chores’ (see number 3) required of communal living can be your way of paying ‘rent” while you stay with your parents.

3. Respect that it is your parent’s house, not yours.

Contributing to the household by doing ‘chores’ (dishes, vacuuming, bathrooms, etc.), cleaning up after yourself, replacing the toilet paper in the bathroom, and keeping your things confined to your ‘space’ in the house is a non-negotiable must. Keep in mind that your parents likely have a much higher standard of tidiness and cleanliness for their house than you and your roommates did at school, so you need to step up your game and keep the place up to snuff if you want to be upgraded from messy child to responsible adult in their eyes.

This respect also extends to the fact that your parents and siblings likely have a routine that they have been following since you left, and you coming home at 4am and waking your family up by spilling fruit loops all over the kitchen floor after a Tuesday night out is not going to win you any points in the ‘independent and responsible adult’ column.

4. Communicate.

You aren’t on your own anymore or living with people who are used to you coming and going without so much as a word on where or why. Your parents are used to keeping track of you and your doings, so them not seeing you for 3 days because you have been visiting friends, working, going to the gym, etc. will worry them and have them chasing after you electronically asking if you’re going to be home for dinner or, you know, ever.

By shooting your parents a quick email or text or debriefing them as you all get ready for work that you have plans for the next few days (even if they are tentative and you can’t offer many details) or that the OJ is running low and you’ll pick some up after work. This shows them that you are being considerate to the fact that they also have lives and a schedule and allows them to plan accordingly.

This kind of communication will also avoid the anger and annoyance that comes when someone goes for their morning orange juice to find a mere 8th of a cup left, and will reduce the ‘where are you, when will you be home?’ texts while you are out with your friends, which is one of the things that feels so crippling to your independence.

5. Spend time with your parents.

You probably haven’t lived with your parents since high school. You have certainly changed since then and they likely have too, so one of the easiest ways to make living with your parents more bearable is to let them get to know the responsible, independent young adult you’ve become over the past few years. If you change your relationship with them into one between adults rather than one between capital ‘P’ Parents and the teenager they used to know (the one who needed their support and guidance more often than not), they will trust you enough to give you more space to do your own thing even as you are living with them.

I have moved home to live with my parents throughout a number of career transitions over the past 4 years. It definitely took a lot of work and communication to get to a place where they saw me as an adult and trusted that I was managing on my own – including some nights where my dad was up til 4 am waiting for me to come home from a party because I had said I’d ‘probably be home around 12’. However, it also took time for me to see them as people living their own lives too, and to be conscientious of how me living there was affecting their previously empty-nest routines. This actually brought us closer, in that I started going to the gym with my mom, and ran a couple of races with my dad and his running group, as well as planning our work-week lunches and grocery shopping together.

What it really comes down to is empathy, respect, and communication. Both you and your parents need be able to empathize with each other’s experience to be able to understand it. Above all, everyone needs to respect each other’s space and schedules and to communicate openly about plans and expectations so that you are able to address any tensions before they erupt into a fight or worse – passive aggressive post-it notes. In my experience, as long as you stick to those basic ground rules, living at home as an adult can actually be kinda fun.