Fri, 22 Sep 2023

Five ways to be a good 'housemate' to your parents

The Conversation
05 Jun 2023, 22:38 GMT+10

According to data from the most recent census, there was an almost 15% rise in the number of non-dependent adult children living at home with their parents in England and Wales between 2011 and 2021.

If we look at young adults aged in their 20s and 30s, on average nearly one in four live at home, though the proportion declines with age.

Young adults may choose to stay living at home or return home for a range of reasons, such as a global pandemic, the rising cost of living, because they're studying, or simply because they enjoy the comfort and location of the family home.

This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.

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In a survey of adults living with at least one parent in mid-2021, roughly one in four reported that their relationship with their parents had improved since the beginning of the pandemic. But for most, the experience could have been more positive.

Living with parents takes work. Unlike with other housemates, a complex family background can mean that any discomfort, gripes or personality clashes from the past are constantly bubbling under the surface, especially at times of stress. This dynamic can make it harder to be a "nice" housemate and may result in conflict.

So, if you're a young adult living at home with your parents - or likewise with step-parents, grandparents or carers - how can you be a better housemate and build a stronger, more mature relationship with them? While both sides need to make a concerted effort, here are a few things you can do.

1. Reframe your problems

On days when you want to bring a date home, have a house party, or you disagree with your parents about something, you may feel fed up with your circumstances. While making a radical change such as moving out may be an option, reframing your thoughts is another way to take charge of this situation.

A daily reflection on what went well during the day creates balance in our experiences. You might just think about these things, or write a few down.

The bad stuff becomes mere context to the day, not its central point. This helps you to build resilience and cope more effectively with these challenges.

And, if possible, share what you are grateful for with your family. Witnessing gratitude can positively affect others, creating a warm feeling.

2. Share a meal

When movie directors want to portray happiness through deep human connection, they usually show people sitting around a table eating, drinking and talking enthusiastically.

It's true that eating together is a great social ritual and can bring people closer. Among chimpanzees, sharing food is associated with the release of oxytocin, a hormone that is known to help humans bond with loved ones.

In an era when everyone is so time poor, finding time to eat together can seem like a tall order. But you only need a few minutes to share a bowl of cereal with your parents in the morning, or a quick fajita in the evening.

Plus, eating with others is associated with health benefits including consuming more nutritious food and better weight management, compared with eating alone.

3. Savour the time

Spending time with your loved ones is a powerful way of showing that you care. Ensuring that you share quality time, or savouring the time spent together, will improve your relationship further.

Savouring is a process by which we increase the intensity of positive experiences. We can savour past events (for example, by reviewing old photo albums), the present (by enjoying an activity together), and even the future (for example, by anticipating good things to come or planning a holiday).

All this can help us become more positive and feel closer to our loved ones. If you have depression or a physical illness, evidence has shown that savouring positive experiences may also reduce symptoms.

4. Commit acts of kindness

Small acts of kindness benefit both those giving and receiving them, boosting happiness and self-regard (how positively we view ourselves).

Apart from psychological benefits, kindness may improve our physical wellbeing. It can reduce pain in adults with chronic illness, decrease stress and increase oxytocin.

We can practise acts of kindness in many ways. Look for opportunities during the day when you can help your parents carry a shopping bag, make them a cuppa, or give them a genuine smile, for example. You could also take the time to help them with something, such as a problem they're having with their smartphone or computer.

5. Practise independence

Early and mid-20s are generally the time a young adult transitions to complete independence. But in recent years, this has been delayed for many, mainly due to the extension of education and difficulty finding a well-paid job.

Despite this challenge, young people living with their parents can do a lot to develop their independence and build emotional resilience. They're in a unique position where they can engage in adult life, yet have the safety of their homes to go back to. Staying at home with the folks can be conducive to building financial independence too, often providing additional capacity to save money.

But it's also a good idea to spend some time away from your parents, whether developing hobbies, connecting with people socially, or adding value to society, for example through volunteering. These activities can improve your wellbeing, make you feel more autonomous, and help you cope more effectively with challenges. They can also help your parents feel better about letting you enter the big wide world.

Soon, you may find yourself in a mature relationship with your parents that is built on mutual respect. A relationship that will let go of teenage angst and create a pathway towards developing genuine friendships with your folks - where you spend time with each other not only because you have to, but because you really want to.

Author: Jolanta Burke - Senior Lecturer, Centre for Positive Health Sciences, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences The Conversation

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