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Graduating and Moving Home: Living with Parents Post-Graduation

The word “graduation” fills us with so many emotions: accomplishment, fear, relief, elation, and sadness.

It’s amazing how we can go from being sad to leave home before freshman year to a sense of reluctance to return home once we graduate. What used to be a strange place filled with over-active twenty-somethings has now become our near and dear second home. Consequently, during our years as college students, we tend to grow a lot and in a multitude of ways. 

For some, the next step isn’t what college necessarily prepares you for, but it is a step that a large number of students end up having to make: moving home. According to RealTrends, “The share of college graduates in their twenties who live with their parents increased from 19% in 2005 to 28% in 2016.”

Because we grew up at home with our parents, the objective concept of moving back home shouldn’t be intimidating. However, a lot happens when we are away at college. For many students, what was once a comfortable and familiar home is now a completely different environment given the changes both child and parents have undergone over the previous years.

"The adjustment was hard. My parents are pretty strict and that didn't change. They still felt like they needed to parent me because I was living under their roof," shared one Biola alumnus I spoke with who moved back home after graduating in 2012. "I didn't have a bedtime necessarily but there was a time that I needed to be awake and downstairs in the morning. Their thought behind this was to help me get a job; if I was sleeping in really late, I wouldn't have as much time to be applying. That made me really annoyed and probably bitter, but I was living under their house, rent-free, so I needed to abide by their rules until I found a job and was able to move out."

"'The adjustment was hard. My parents are pretty strict and that didn't change. I had been living away from them for four years and I guess I had assumed they would have changed along with me or had been aware of how I had changed.'"

Another alumna who graduated just last year from Biola's communications department shared her experience moving home: "It was definitely very hard and challenging. Specifically, I think it was hard because we had to figure out what the boundaries were. I was constantly being watched because we lived together and there were underlying expectations of 'When are you getting a job?' and 'What are you doing with your life?' While they never said them out loud, I could feel it."

In each of these examples, the former students were confronted with a difficulty many graduates face when they move back home to parents who only want the best for their child. The first alumnus encountered parents who felt the need to keep being parents by employing rules and limits in order to direct their "child" down the road to what they thought was best. In the second example, the graduate faced constant pressure in their home from parents who wanted to see their child succeed. What both sets of parents might not have realized was how their actions could cause their children to feel uncomfortable with living back home overall. 

The biggest contributor to this dynamic is how much students naturally change while away at college. Independence exponentially grows, our ability to make decisions grows, and we really learn what we do and don't like to do. We tend to discover the types of schedules and routines that suit us best with almost no judgment or restrictions because everyone around us is trying to find their way too! Even our personalities may grow or shift. They may not change drastically but after a multitude of classes, new friendships, and frequent challenges, we are well primed to mature and grow in all sorts of ways. For example, we might become a morning person or learn how to stay up all night, how to be productive, more creative, and how to manage our time well. With all of these exciting discoveries and changes in mind, it's easier to understand why our parents may not be prepared for these differences when we come home. We've been away from home for all of these major changes, so naturally, our parents' image of us in their head is the old version of us, which is why they will naturally want to treat us like that "old version." The question then becomes, how do we continue to move forward in our personal development when our parents treat us like the "old version?"

"[During college] ...independence exponentially grows, the ability to make decisions grows, and you really learn what you like to do and what you don’t like to do. We tend to discover the types of schedules and routines that suit us best with almost no judgment because everyone around us is trying to find their way too."

The first challenge we run into when our parents treat us with less independence than we're used to is the potentially rebellious need to break away without enough communication and patience. This can lead to a lot of strife between parent and child as both parties adjust to their new phase of life.

A quote from an article titled, “Moving Back Home After College,” explains it this way, “When a graduate moves back home after college, the framework for that living situation is often based on the pre-college experience when mom and dad were busy parents and the child was exactly that — a child.” Remember that we are still new to adulthood and this is potentially our parents' first time living with a young adult. Therefore, new territory is likely being discovered by both parties and this process needs time, effort, and understanding attitudes. 

Here is some advice from former students mentioned above alongside some other tips for those of us whose post-grad story starts at home!

1) The first tip comes from our most recent alumni. She shared the ways in which she would change how she approached homelife after college: "There's going to be expectations on you when you move back home and I wish I had more of a goal of what I was going to do when I got back! It's easy to fall into the 'summer zone' so maybe take a couple of weeks to enjoy yourself and the summer feeling, and then, in June, start to take action for that plan you made. Figure out what it is that you want to do and through that, you will be productive."

In other words, try not to keep your future or your timeline for living at home open-ended! While it is completely normal to be unsure about what you want to do after college, it would be helpful in reducing you and your family's anxiety if you create and implement a post-college timeframe, goals and action plan. Create a plan (as vague or specific as necessary) that involves your projected timeline for living at home, potential job prospects, or other involvements; then share this with your parents. This will not only put your own mind at ease but also bolster their trust in you that you actually plan to do something with your life and have an idea of how to achieve it!

2) No matter how easy it may be to let yourself revert to living like a teenager again after moving back home, now is the time to showcase your growth and maturity as a young adult. “Start out by talking to your parents, sharing your plans, letting them know what support you’d like from them and offer to contribute to the household in whatever way you can …then continue to act like an adult, accepting not only the freedom and privileges that come with it, but the responsibilities as well.” - “Moving Back Home After College.”

3) Don’t be a freeloader (if you can help it).

One of the key pieces, as mentioned in the second point, to showing your parents that you are capable of handling adulthood is to pick up responsibilities around the house on your own. Don’t wait for them to ask you to help with the dishes or ask them to buy you all of the foods you want to eat. This can be a way to maintain the responsibilities and growth that you gained while away at college.

A healthy warning to anyone who is moving back home: Some parents may ask you to pay rent! Graciously accepting responsibility by contributing to the family funds through your own labor is not only showing your parents that you are self-sufficient but is also a way to give back to them for the past 20 years of support in life. Think of it as the least you can do to thank them before you leave their household for good. And talk to your parents if this feels unmanageable - perhaps you can agree to a grace period or an alternative way to give back to your family.

4) And if you happen to be a parent reading this article, a hard but important rule for you to follow is this: Don't overwhelm your children. Instead, step back and give them the opportunity to make this adjustment while gently offering affirmation along the way. 

Recent college graduates do need your help in order to kickstart their after-college motivation and life, but they don’t need your help every minute of every day! Gentle, understanding nudges over time are healthy ways to make sure your pre-professional doesn’t lose sight of their goals, but constant pressure will only succeed in pushing your children away, causing tension or frustration in your relationship. The latter should never be your goal. Remember that your “child” is now an adult; they’ve come a long way during their time in school, so try not to undermine that growth by putting them back in the childhood box that you might be used to. Give young adults room to breathe and stretch their newly developed wings so they can fly more easily and effortlessly once they leave the nest!

To finish it off, I will leave you with the wise words of our first alumnus: “Be open and honest with your parents. You have done a lot of changing while you’ve been away, and they haven’t been there for it. Be gracious and let them in.”