Among many pains that stem from millennial privileges, the one that has been bugging me the most recently is facing the contradicting values I have absorbed throughout my life.
I have an impression that the family ethos I was raised in doesn’t go very well with what I encountered at later stages of my life. That is not to say that any of these values are “better” than others. It’s just that, as I kept bouncing between my family home, groups of friends and working environments in different countries, I experienced notorious cognitive dissonance and internal conflict.
There is clearly no one “right” way to live my life.
Six months ago, I took a decision that many consider radical. After exhausting myself physically, working in a hotel, and emotionally, going on a solo trip to India and Nepal, I felt weak and in need of support. Not support in the sense of somebody holding my hand and saying that everything’s going to be fine. Support, as in, being in an environment where I’d feel emotionally secure and comfortable being me. A place where I don’t need to wear much of a mask.
Surprisingly, I found that the closest to what I needed was my parents’ house.
When I told one of my spiritually-inclined friends that I moved in with my parents, he considered it a step backwards. Being one of the most growth-oriented people I know, he claimed that I won’t be able to make a significant leap of personal growth as long as I stay in my family home.
I am turning 28 this year. Living with one’s parents in the “nest” at this age is, indeed, considered abnormal in our society. Most of my friends seem at the very least surprised when I say that I now live in the house where I was growing up. I think many consider it to be a sign of “not getting ahead” or failing to “make it” in life.
I also judged myself for a long time, because of the fact that I live with my parents. I felt uncomfortable telling newly met people that I didn’t have my own place and stayed at my family house. It was as if this mundane fact forced me to feel ashamed of my whole self.
At the same time, I cannot find a good reason to live elsewhere at this point in my life. I am single, and renting a room in a flat with strangers, just like I did during the university years, doesn’t sound tempting to me at all. Renting a whole flat would barely be within my budget — plus, I wouldn’t get the perks of living in a house, namely: the garden.
There really is no good reason for me to go somewhere where I would spend all day alone in an empty flat, writing, just so that I could be away from my parents.
For the sake of what exactly?
Living in a multi-generation house used to be the norm back in the day when community and family where central values to most people. But having conformed to the culture of individualism, where personal goals and “me time” are almost sacred, I obviously feel a lot of discomfort living with my family.
However — contrarily to what my friend said — I see this discomfort as an invaluable opportunity for growth.
The discomfort often stems from the aforementioned clash of values. The ones that I took away from my upbringing seem to oppose those I absorbed over 8 full years of living away from my parents. During the university period and after, bouncing between Edinburgh, France and Warsaw, I came to see that I am the most important person in my life. This notion has become central during the most formative first years of my adulthood.
I was soaking up ideas such as uncovering my deepest purpose, following my unique path, being true to myself and chasing my dreams no matter what. I came to believe that if I wasn’t doing just that, I was plain cheating myself and wasting my life in conformism.
I still believe that I am my most important person, simply because it doesn’t make sense otherwise. I know I am the only one responsible for making myself happy. However, the way to happiness doesn’t necessarily mean disregarding those around me anymore.
I now realize that I don’t exist in separation from the people surrounding me — and so, my own happiness is intertwined with theirs. This is the most important lesson that living with my family as an adult has revealed to me.
The lesson comes from being re-exposed to the original values I grew up with. The ones which I inherited from my parents, which they inherited from theirs. That’s the part of the “old world” ethos, that virtually no-one ever embraces today. However, this voice of the generations that came before us may have something valuable to offer.
This is about having respect for those who gave me life and used to care for me. It is about going out of my way sometimes, in order to care for them this time. Holding the space for them to voice their opinions, even if they contradict my own. It’s the unpopular, old-fashioned notion of sacrificing my own desires for the sake of making them happy.
It has been hard for me to accept such notions as valid even before I moved back in with my parents. There has been a lot of tension between us — especially between me and my mom — while I was away. We’d had a hard time relating to one another from the moment when it became clear that the life I wanted to pursue was dramatically different from what she had imagined for me. It was difficult for me to respect her while I felt so deeply misunderstood.
But I didn’t want to run away from it. Many people advised me to cut bonds and start living my own life, disregarding my family. While it sounded tempting in the most difficult moments, I always believed that running away from a conflict like that would only be a temporary fix.
It would cover up the unpleasant effects, without ever addressing the cause of the tension.
Today, as I live with my mom and dad under one roof again, I am beginning to understand where they are coming from. Sometimes my grandma also comes to stay with us temporarily, since her husband died last year and she was left all alone. Seeing how my family members need me or expect me to act in a certain way causes me to rebel at first. Then, as I inspect my feelings and thoughts carefully, I realize that it is not their expectations that bother me.
It is the dissonance between how they want to see me, and how I want to see myself. It is my ego trying to dictate what is, and what isn’t acceptable in my experience.
Sometimes I want to dedicate a whole day to writing, while grandma expects me to keep her company on a walk. I look forward to eating my breakfast in silence, reading — and then my dad comes and insists on a conversation. I intend to finally give up any pretence that I am still involved in organized religion in any way — but my mom presses the whole family to go to church on Easter morning.
I often find it extremely hard not to conform to my family’s expectations. The above examples may sound like mundane things — but to me, they translate into much more significant questions. These questions directly tackle the issue of guarding the boundary between my individuality and my being a part of the collective.
When should I conform to what is being proposed, and when is it better to voice my own opinion?
How do I decide on whether to insist on having things my way, or just go with the flow?
Do I serve myself directly by doing what I planned? Or do I serve myself indirectly, by making somebody next to me happier and therefore creating a more agreeable environment for all?
The longer I live with my family, the more I see how much I am blended with other people. My well-being is interdependent with, rather than independent from theirs. No matter how much the illusion of me being an autonomous entity persists, the reality is different. On some level, we are indeed one.
The art of compromising and doing something for another without expecting anything in return seems to be almost lost nowadays. Meanwhile, I have a feeling that we may need those things now more than ever. My family is teaching me such forgotten skills — simply by remaining true to their values.
And I am grateful that they do.