It's 2021: the cost of living is astronomical and everyone is still trying to navigate the state of the world and its "new normal." And as young adults, let's be honest, we are trying our best to save some money where and when we can.
Which brings me to the obvious: a lot of us moved back in with our families (myself included!) and... it's interesting to say the least. 🙃
I moved back home during the pandemic to save money after living in a studio apartment in Manhattan for a few years.
And if you're living home not just for saving money, but maybe because you're a college student who doesn't live on campus, or even a recent grad who is looking for a job and a place to live, you're not alone either.
Something that I think we can all agree on is the difficulty of setting boundaries with the family members we're living with.
So to help my situation, and many others who can relate, I spoke to a few experts on this topic to get their advice on how to set healthy boundaries to have a little peace while I'm still sleeping in my childhood bedroom.
• Dr. Derek Richards, research psychologist & psychotherapist and Chief Science Officer at SilverCloud Health.
• Claire Brummell, creator & founder of The Universal Needs.
• Dr. Bill Hudenko, head of global mental Health at K Health.
• Dr. Meghan Marcum, chief psychologist at AMFM Healthcare.
• Amy Morin, psychotherapist and editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind.
• Amber Robinson, licensed psychotherapist.
Question #1: How can I navigate my dating life while living with my parents?
Have an open and honest conversation with your family about dating.
According to Dr. Richards, it's important to make sure the conversation addresses expectations — both theirs and yours.
"Establish rules and boundaries on both sides that communicate what both you and your parents are (and are not) comfortable with in terms of dating while living at home," he advised.
And, if resources allow, plan dates outside of the house whenever possible to ensure time away. "Whether you’re going out to dinner, hiking, or taking a weekend trip, it’s an opportunity to feel like you’re getting the privacy you need with your significant other," Dr. Richards said.
Don't be embarrassed about your living situation when dating — and find ways to make it work for everyone.
"Many adult children are ashamed of living with their family of origin, and will go to great lengths to conceal it from a potential partner," said Dr. Hudenko. (I can relate to this immediately because when I go on a date, I don't mention right away that I'm living at home.)
Hudenko says that while this living situation may not be ideal for privacy, there are ways to make it work — like negotiating a date night out for your parents so you can have some privacy at home.
Be upfront with your family about dating instead of being sneaky.
"The last thing you want to do is to start acting like a teenager again just because you are living in your parents’ home," said Amy Morin.
"Sneaking someone into the house late at night to avoid an awkward meeting with your parents is never a good idea. So instead, be respectful of your family and try to work on an arrangement that is as comfortable as possible for everyone," she suggested.
Question #2: How do I set boundaries when it comes to carving out time for myself?
Remind your family that needing time alone does not mean you don't want to spend time with them.
Hudenko pointed out that parents need to recognize that their adult child requires independence and space, while the child needs to recognize that he/she/they are a guest in the home (though still family).
"Hopefully, the time spent together can lead to enjoyable activities and closeness," he said. "However, it is also important to reserve space and alone time when it’s needed."
Hudenko suggested various ways to get that much-needed alone time (or time away from the home) — like meeting up with old friends, setting aside periods of undisturbed time for exercise, or simply just closing a bedroom door to spend time solo, watch movies, or a read book.
"As long as everyone realizes that separation at home can be important for mental health — and that the distance is not related to negative feelings about each other — many potential conflicts can be avoided and overall family satisfaction will likely improve," he explained.
Find simple, ultra-practical ways to have some alone time with yourself — like taking a long walk, or going on a drive.
Within the home itself, Dr. Meghan Marcum also suggested using a 'Do Not Disturb' sign whenever you don’t want interruptions. "Or, she says, go to an area of your home where others may not frequent like the backyard, the garage, or side patio.
Make creative use of "off hours."
"One of my favorite ways to get alone time is to get up earlier than every one else," said Amber Robinson. "It may be difficult at first, but it is so peaceful and serene to have that time to yourself."
Question #3: How do I explain to my family that I need more privacy?
If you think the request will be met negatively, remember that framing is key — and kick off with something positive.
Richards explained that setting healthy boundaries doesn't have to be hurtful to family members if they are framed in the right way.
"Be both candid and thankful. Start by telling your family how appreciative you are for them welcoming you home with open arms but let them know that you’d like to establish boundaries as well," he said.
"By having an open and upfront conversation about the space you’ll need or the role you’d like your family to take – or not take – in your life decisions, you will show that you value your relationships enough to take a proactive effort to address potential issues before they escalate," he explained.
Show your family the same respect you want to receive from them.
Claire Brummell suggests asking your family to respect your privacy — and to tell them you'll do the same for them.
"I suggest to clients to say something along the lines of, 'Hey (Mom/Dad/etc.) I know how important it is for us all to have privacy and spaces that are our own. So I wanted to ask if you could you please knock and wait for an answer before coming in my room? And I will obviously do the same with your room too. Is there anything else that you would like me to do so that you can get your privacy too?'"
Question #4: How do I say "no" to my family without feeling guilty?
Remind yourself that sometimes saying "no" to your family means saying "yes" to yourself.
Morin said it's healthy to remind ourselves that although we're saying no to something, we are saying yes to something else.
"So while you may be declining an invitation to watch a movie in the family room, you’re saying yes to a little relaxation time by yourself. Keep in mind that guilty feelings don’t mean you’ve done anything wrong," she said.
Realize that you simply cannot say "yes" to everything.
"We often feel inclined to automatically say 'yes' when our family asks us for something, regardless of how big or small the request is," said Richards.
"However, saying 'no' is sometimes the best move for your relationship with yourself and with others. Take the time to explain to your family why you’re saying no."
Richards said that no one can say yes to everything — and your family is more likely to respect your decision when they understand your reasoning. (This is something that I've been trying to practice more because it's personally hard for me to say 'no' to my family, but it makes a big difference when I put myself first.)
Ask your family the intent behind their request that you want to say "no" to.
"Guilt is an emotion that arises when an individual feels as if they are not living up to obligations or expectations of others. An adult living with their family of origin may often feel guilty for using family resources, for not following house rules, or even for needing help," explained Hudenko.
But Hudenko emphasized that guilt can be alleviated by agreeing on rules, roles, or boundaries early on. "If that hasn’t resolved the problem, I recommend that adult children calmly ask family members about the intent behind the request," he said. Learning more about the intent — or at least, having your family members really think about their intent — should help provide clarity on both sides.
Question #5: How do I express to my family how I'm feeling without causing an argument?
To avoid tension, make sure to actively listen.
"Open the conversation and make sure to hear their perspective — because it helps defuse the situation," said Dr. Holly Schiff. "Using 'I' statements is definitely important (versus 'you' statements) because otherwise your parents may feel blamed and get defensive."
Express your feelings when you're feeling calm.
If you can, preemptively take the heat off — and try and set up the conversation so that it can happen after you've had a chance to relax and unwind. "If you attempt to explain when you are frustrated or feeling stressed, conversations can often lead to conflict," said Marcum. "When conflict arises, people tend to become defensive and the message often gets lost in the emotions that arise."
If and when the conversation does start to get heated, remove yourself — and come back to revisit it later.
"If someone breaks a rule or boundary you already set, remind them of the boundary you’ve established," advised Morin. "Stay calm and tell them that you have established this rule to help you meet your needs."
"When a conversation starts to get heated, say that you are going to end the talk for now and you'd like to revisit again when everyone is calm," she said.