I recently read an essay on CNN called “I still live with my parents and love it.” It was written by Jillian Knowles, a 27-year-old woman who moved back home with her parents shortly after she finished graduate school.
A 2012 Pew Research survey found that 3 in 10 young adults live with their parents. “The share of Americans living in multi-generational family households is the highest it has been since the 1950s, having increased significantly in the past five years.” This demographic has been nicknamed the boomerang generation, referring to the large number of young adults who move out of the family home for a time, only to move right back in.
Jillian’s essay described some of her reasons for moving back home, such as financial, and some of the challenges she experienced, like being mistaken for a babysitter. If her essay didn’t also include a photo, I would have thought Jillian was describing an Asian American experience; the only thing missing was a fight over the Sriracha sauce. For most Asians, the expectation is that children will live with their parents until they marry, purchase their own home, or the zombie apocalypse happens (then it’s everyone for themselves).
What struck me most about the essay was that Jillian framed her situation as out of the ordinary, describing the stigma attached to it. “I live with [my parents], and society should be OK with that.” While this might be true in mainstream America, we Asians have been doing it for centuries. Ironically, for Asians there’s a stigma if you don’t live at home. Even Confucius and Buddha had to move back in with their parents after years of philosophizing abroad.
In my own life, I have moved back home on two separate occasions. The first time was for financial reasons. I had just finished my bachelor’s degree in 2006. That lasted about a year until I decided eating rice for every meal was driving me crazy. So I decided to join the Peace Corps and get as far away from home as possible. Ironically, perhaps it was karma, but I was sent to Cambodia, where I ate rice for every meal.
The second time I move back home was in 2010, after I returned from Peace Corps. This time my decision was because of reverse-culture-shock. After two years of living abroad I to relearn simple American things in order to survive, like English, recycling, having a Black president, and showering.
Whatever the reasons millennials have for moving back home with their parents, there are some notable similarities and differences between mainstream and Asian culture.
Saving Money / Working off debt: Jillian had $150,000 in student loans and moved back home to pay off the debt. This is also true for many Asian families. It’s pretty much the cultural norm. Asian parents view this living arrangement as a way to provide shelter for their children, giving them time to prepare for the real world. Asians are technically still a child until they’re 34. For the children, it’s a chance to save up on a down payment to eventually buy their own home—the ultimately Asian life goal. I suppose makes us pretty darn American.
Family dinners: Jillian described the “endless supply of home-cooked meals,” which is also a perk for Asians. My mom would cook dishes like congee and won ton soup—recipes that I never learned—and in exchange I introduced her to exotic foods like pizza, spicy Cheetos, and hummus. It’s really not a bad trade off to be honest.
Taking care of family: This is one area where mainstream and Asian cultures differ. Most millennials move back home because they can’t make it without their parent’s help. According to the Pew report, 78% of 25- to 34-year-olds surveyed say they don’t currently have enough money to lead the kind of life they want, compared with 55% of their same-aged peers who aren’t living with their parents.
On the other hand, in Asian households the opposite is true. Families live together so that children can support their parents. Refugee and immigrant parents especially rely on their children to support them through the retirement years; they don’t have fancy savings, 401Ks or pensions. Additionally, because of language and cultural barriers, parents often need their children to help them navigate a very complex system—whether for health care, transportation, or even the Internet.
But there’s more to it than mere dependency or even independence. To Asians, living with your parents–and supporting them–is how you show love and respect. That and buying them a new car.
Boundaries: Jillian wrote, “I am 27, and my boyfriend is 33. He is not allowed upstairs and has to sleep on the couch if he stays over.” Wait, you mean your parents know you have a boyfriend and they still allowed him to enter their home? Weird. We usually skip out on telling our parents and make up an excuse like we’re studying late at the library.
There are many reasons why millennials would choose to move back home with their parents—all of them perfectly reasonable. But let’s face it, Jillian’s story would not be a big deal if she weren’t White. The truth is, her story has already been experienced by thousands of Asian Americans. Most of the time, we tell these stories to scare our friends. “Dude, I moved back in with my parents and now my mom wants me to rub a coin on her back. Eeek!!!”
While millennials may think they’ve discovered something new and trendy, the bottom line is Asians have been doing this exact same thing for a very long time. For us, moving back in isn’t the problem, it’s figuring out how to move out!
So quit copying our stuff and thinking you just “discovered” it. You already stole coconut water and yoga. Boomerang generation? Ha! Let’s call this what it really is—Asian style.
How about everyone else out there? Do you have experiences moving back in with your parents? I’d love to hear it!