Living With Family

Ever since the financial meltdown last year I’ve seen a lot of down-on-their-luck stories on various news websites.  Not surprisingly, one of the stories that keeps coming up describes people who have lost their homes and are forced to move in with family members.  While I don’t doubt the difficulty of this situation or the heartbreak of losing a home, I’ve also begun to wonder if concentrating a large, extended family in one location is such a bad thing after all. 


Most people I know in the U.S. eventually strike out on their own.  For example, I left home when I was eighteen and though I didn’t become financially independent for a number of years, I also never moved back.  In fact the idea of moving back home and living with my parents is a little bit disturbing to me.  This pattern and mentality seem fairly typical.  Not only that, they seem to represent the desirable norm; its not hard to think of people (fictional or not) who live with their parents and are thusly looked down on.


Even if this is the standard pattern in the U.S. today, it isn’t as common in other parts of the world or in the past.  My first hand experiences in Brazil and Great Briton, as well as my understanding of history, lead me to believe that a more common worldwide (and historical) pattern is for people to live with or near their parents for generation after generation.  If that fact doesn’t necessarily change what we contemporary Americans want to do, it at least indicates that people can lead happy, fulfilling lives whether they strike out on their own or live close to home.


The question as I see it then, is if adults are better off living in larger family units or only with their partners (and children).  In my case, after having been conditioned all my life to look down on living with my family, I imagine it would be difficult to ever return home.  However, if we as a society began to look more critically at this idea and see its possible advantages I think we might  find that those advantages may outweigh any sacrifices.  Obviously living in larger numbers means less privacy, personal freedom, and personal space.  On the other hand it may also mean less loneliness, greater division of labor, and a stronger family culture.  It may just be possible that the pros of living with family outweigh the cons. 


Ultimately Americans seem to conceive of themselves in highly individualistic terms.  As long as we continue to think that way, any loss of individuality will seem like a disaster.  Having to give up the freedom of financial prosperity (and the homes that prosperity provides) will be a dehumanizing experience that robs people of their identity and makes them a burden on those around them.  (It’s no surprise, then, that many of the stories about the economic crisis have focused on the disruption that adult offspring cause in the lives of their parents, as well as the tendency to revert back to adolescent behavior once at home.)


However, I think that it’s possible to see ourselves not as detached individuals but as members of larger communities and/or families.  This probably won’t make losing a job or a home less painful, but it may mitigate the impact on people’s self-perception and the difficulty of living with family.  In other words, if we conceive of ourselves as members of a family or community first, and homeowners or professionals second, our identity will no longer be based on the caprice of the capitalist economy.  What’s more, if we start to think of ourselves in this way living with our families starts to seem like less of a set back and more of a return to our homelands and our heritage.   



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5 responses to “Living With Family

  1. This is a great topic and all well-said. I think much of the "independent" ideology is very American, and I once heard it stated that Americans confuse freedom with independence. For example, instead of, "I have the freedom to choose this or this or this, and for the betterment of the whole," it's more, "I can choose whatever I want, because I'm in America, and I don't have to do anything for anyone." It's one of those paradoxes that when we start to give up more (i.e. share our home with family members who have lost theirs), we gain more (community, helping hands, love, etc.)I think you said it all better than I just attempted up there, but thought I'd do my first Jim/Blob comment! Again, great blog, and come visit us!

  2. I've seen many couples move in with one or the others parents and end up in divorce or having major problems (even if they have been married for years and years). I think there is soooooooo much value in leaving and cleaving. Not to say we haven't been tempted to move in with my parents, and I think short term would be fine. I think as Americans we need to think about and value our families more, keep in better contact and be more open with our own siblings, but I don't know about moving in with them. -jill

  3. I really liked this post. I think we definitely need a more community-oriented perspective in America. There's too much "I'm entitled to…" and not enough "I have responsibility to…" if you get what I mean. However, I do feel like it was really important for Jordan and me to start off on our own. There's a certain amount of growing up and growing together that happens, don't you think? If you have the right mindset, being it can also help you grow more responsible and community oriented. I think when you keep the family unit together it's easy for people not to really grow up until the older generation dies.

  4. I enjoy your blog quite a bit Jim, and this post is my favorite yet. I think much of what you say is true. I've lived with my grandmother for the duration of my time at BYU, and recently my mother and most of my siblings have moved in with us as well. What you say about lack of privacy and so on is true, but I don't think that outweighs the pros. I think that living with a family can be difficult, but I also think it makes you better in a lot of ways. It requires patience, it requires kindness and willingness to apologize. It requires that sometimes you think of someone else and what they might need before oneself. Obviously I do not intend to live this way forever, and it might be significantly more difficult were I married, but in the end I think independence (especially at it's prideful extreme) is a bit overrated. I also think that if a married couple is going to live with aging parents or vice versa, some ground rules have to be set out and respected. I think it can work, but those involved — especially the adults — have to be very cautious about being controlling and so on. So far it's worked out alright for us. 🙂

  5. (In response to everyone): I don't think that this is really an idea that could suddenly be implemented in American today. First, I don't want to do this. Second, it would create a lot of problems. However, I also think that we could slowly shift our values toward more communal ones. Obviously there is value in breaking out on one's own. On the other hand I think it would be possible to radically redefine what we see as important. If our the redirection of our values was radical enough many of the problems with this idea might be lessened. Of course, that redirection would also take a long time.

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