Students only hear or read about methods of adjusting to life away from home when they begin their tertiary education. However, there is also the less explored idea of adjusting to home again after years of studying and living away from parents or guardians.

Some students may cringe at the thought of becoming a permanent resident at their parents’ house again, while others may enjoy the luxuries of home and may choose to settle there for longer.

The difficulty lies in forming a balance between what is expected of you as a child at home and what you have grown used to as a semi-independent student. Student.com presents a likely scenario: “You have had [approximately] four years of being independent and doing things [the way] you want without anyone to offer their opinion. Now you have to face the fact that you will be moving back home. You may hear from time to time ‘you live under my roof and these are my rules’.”

This submission to authority is the main aversion students have about returning home.

Margrit Springer, a third-year medical student, confirms this: “When you’re home, your parents look over everything you do and restrictions, such as going out at whatever time you wish, are imposed. It can get frustrating when you’ve lived away from them for some time.”

Aside from the obvious freedom, smaller details also form part of the readjustment of living at home again, like changing the way you speak. Your parents might not be impressed with the profanities you’ve started using since living with your flatmates. In a 2012 New York Times article entitled “I Moved Back Home, and I’m Glad I Did”, 22-year-old Georgetown University graduate Aodhan Beirne writes, “I miss being able to stack dirty dishes and leave towels [lying] around.”

Some students go home on weekends and holidays and fall back into the way of life they lived before they moved out, so their parents are never really exposed to the transition they’ve gone through during their studies. Irma du Plessis, a sociology lecturer at UP, says, “Doing this makes it harder for the parents to adapt to the changes they will eventually see and can lead to a lack of intimacy.” Hiding aspects of who you’ve become may delude your parents into thinking there have been no changes in your life.

Certain environments and people draw out different aspects of a person’s personality, says du Plessis. She elaborates: “Historically, a person’s sense of self is fairly located in place and being known in relation to other people within a set social order.” So, the person your parents know you to be and the person your friends know you to be may clash and integrating them might prove difficult. The concept of “adulthood” is also a tentative one because, although you may be an adult at 18 in terms of the law, you may not be socially accepted as one by your parents or by society at large.

The idea of authority and rules lessens when students live alone because there are fewer authority figures to impose moral obligations. In some families parents may not have attended university and might not understand the changes their children have gone through after being in such an environment. Du Plessis says, “Parents in this situation might feel devalued and inferior and these insecurities make it difficult for them to hold on to a sense of authority, which leads to their being authoritarian and their children feeling repressed [when they return home].”

Students who lived at home throughout their studies may not struggle with the issue of readjustment but may face some difficulties in officially moving out in future.

Bonolo Seperepere, a second-year genetics student, says she enjoys the luxuries of living at home but adds, “It is true though that I probably will have a harder time adjusting to moving out of home than students who’ve gone through the transition of semi-independency.”

The readjustment of living dynamics affects parents as much as it does students. In a 2012 Sunday Times article entitled “Letting Grow”, psychologist Judith Ancer addresses parents and says, “You might dream of the day your last child leaves home and you finally get your freedom back.” When moving out, we only consider our freedom despite the fact that our parents have their freedom back too. However, this freedom may be more readily embraced by students. Ancer goes on to say that regular contact between a parent and a child living away from home diminishes. “I know someone who feels very hurt that her daughter, once the apple of her eye, now makes little effort to stay in touch, except when she needs something.”

There are even more factors contributing to the dynamics of living at home again, such as the number of children in the household. Dr Tendani Ramukumba, a parent of a third-year engineering student, says, “It’s easier when you have more children because by the time the youngest moves out, you’re familiar with what happens afterwards.”

Respecting the needs and preferences of other people in the household is essential, as Ramukumba explains, “The freedom [they] expect to be given is a challenge. You have to allow them to be social but teach them to retain the element of homeliness and moulding yourself within the home structure. The freedom you have gained does not work in isolation and doesn’t have to be discarded, but it will function in an altered way.”

Moving out of your parents’ home is more of an overlapping phase instead of something that magically happens overnight. Perhaps by treating it as a transition instead of turning it into a game of power, freedom and authority, the change will be more beneficial than detrimental to both parties.

Photo: Eleanor Harding

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