If, like me, you have had to make some very unexpected changes to your living situation this year— like moving back in with your Mom as an adult after years of living on your own— then chances are, like me, you are also doing a lot of re-calibration, maybe some hand-wringing, and a great deal of reflection.
It can be weird moving back home. It feels a bit like walking into a time capsule. Sitting in a piece of your personal history and wondering what the next chapter is going to look like. Looking at old dance photos from your high school competition days, or maybe even your college dance degree framed on the wall of the living room, creates an out-of-body experience.
At this point in the pandemic, if you have experienced any of the above, you are far from alone. And I mean, truly far. A survey conducted in September 2020 by Pew Research Center found that 52% of Americans between the ages of 18-29 are currently living with their parents. This is the largest percent seen since the Great Depression! This also means that at least one out of every two of your American friends between 18 and 29 years old is in the same boat as you right now. So what does this mean?
I know a few months back, all this meant to me is that I was making a temporary, but necessary financial decision. As soon as the dust settled on this ridiculous year I would be out and about once again—back on track towards the fully independent, fly-the-coop situation I had always known I should aspire to. Not that I don’t love living with my family (I actually do, a lot). But in that other reality, the one where I am out on my own, far far away, is where I will be able to reach my “final form,” i.e., peak in my career, find total happiness, flourish in my art, etc.
Yet the longer I stayed at my Mom’s, the more conflicted I became. I was actually, genuinely enjoying myself. This was terrifying. Was I becoming my perceived worst nightmare? The millennial meme of a grown-up that had the nerve to earn a BFA in Dance and is now so dependent on their family that they doomed to never again achieve a life of their own?
I needed to run these thoughts past someone, so I decided to talk with my Grandma (who, incidentally, was easy to access as she too lives in my Mom’s house and has since I was born).For context, my Grandma did not grow up in the US. She is from Guyana, a tiny country in South America nestled between Venezuela and Brazil. I asked her in a moment of vulnerability if she saw a correlation between my struggling career, my return to my childhood home, and my overall success as a human. She seemed surprised. “I can see that you came back a little earlier than you anticipated—but I always expected you would come back. Was that not part of the plan?” Now it was my turn to be surprised. “…No?” I was not sure how to digest that. Had my Grandma been long prophesying my inability to maintain independence as an adult? She then said, “If one of you kids did not come back, then your mother would have to go to wherever you are I suppose. That’s just how it's done.”
This was interesting.
This also gave me a great sense of relief! Maybe, just maybe, the picture of my own success does not simply hinge on whether or not I “live with my Mom.” Actually, it is looking more and more likely that I will always live with my Mom, or she will live with me. There is something so much more comforting about envisioning my personal growth, excelling in my career, thriving in my relationships and living as close as I can to my Mom all at the same time. I also believe that my relationship to dance set me up to succeed in this dynamic. Every day I use spatial awareness, compassion, flexibility, and patience to navigate a busy house. Dance taught me how to be a better communicator and how to pick up on non-verbal cues. Without realizing it, being fluent in the language of movement made me an all-around better listener. I feel like I connect with my Mom and my Grandma more now than I did the first time I lived with them. We’re having better conversations. There is also something to be said about the chasm that is created when suddenly the ability to share a space with a lot of other people is gone. One of the benefits of having a great big family is that you never really feel quite as isolated.
I think we need to normalize multi-generational homes, especially if you, like me, are actually very happy living in one. It may have taken some very unexpected circumstances to realize this, but I am so grateful that I did. If the statistics are to be trusted, it seems this may be the direction more and more families are headed. We, as dancers, know so well what it means to show up for each other, support one another, build up a community that stays strong in the face of chaos and hardship, and make sure that there is always an effort to keep dance alive and well. If that isn’t the definition of a healthy family, I do not know what is. The good news is that these principals can be applied in more than one place without shame or stigma.
If you have had to move back home this past year, you are far from alone.
In Guyana, multi-generational homes are actually closer to the default. It is normal to grow up in the same house as your parents, grandparents and in some cases your aunts, uncles, and cousins, too. When you get older, perhaps get married and start your own family, it is typical for your parents or in-laws to then live with you as they age. For some, the “academic” explanation for this has to do with economics, the sharing of resources and limited access to housing. And these things definitely are true. But if you were to ask my Grandma, the culture of living in a big, multi-generational home has everything to do with maintaining closeness to family. It is about building a wide, sturdy support system and a strong community to live out your life. With this in mind, It is actually no wonder her go-to vision of a successful adulthood had less to do with me getting out of the way as quickly as possible than it did with whether or not I had mapped out a comfortable aging plan for my Mom.
I couldn’t help but notice some strong parallels between these family values described by my Grandma and the dance community. A big reason that I, among many, have chosen a life in dance is the undeniable sense of connectivity, closeness and support in a network of artists that all care about the same thing.
If you are concerned that actually enjoying being home is a sign that your sense of independence and stability has been compromised, don’t be. You’re not alone there, either. And it hasn’t.
If you like your multi-generational home, lean in! As a dancer, you’re more equipped than you think.