My mother is one of the most intelligent and resilient women I know, and for this Mother’s Day, I’m going to stop being ashamed that I live with her.
Yes, I’m a thirty-three-year-old married woman with an established career who lives with their mother. For the past 15 years, I’ve carried a growing shame about living with her, and it wasn’t until I was in quarantine with my Mom did I unpack that baggage.
Shame is interesting, it’s non-discriminate, and regardless of status, it finds a way to infect our souls. A seed that is planted in our psyche and grows over time, influencing how we move through the world, protecting the little secrets we have around our shame. Movies, television shows, media, in general, has painted the picture of a very pathetic adult who lives with their parent. A person who is unmotivated, non-directional, a slacker, lazy, ungrateful, entitled, a stunted-adult who is irresponsible and has a bad case of Peter Pan syndrome. It’s a characterization that I don’t identify with and does not accurately depict my husband at all. I am absolutely terrified of being boxed in by that stereotype. If the story were flipped and my mother happened to be living with me in my house, I’d be painted with a sweet altruistic multi-generational home narrative, but that isn’t my story. I would be lying if I tried to spin that story too. Instead, I’m tangled up in my shame because except for a small three-month stint in Venice when I was 20 and living with a few co-workers, I’ve never lived on my own.
I grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, a stones-throw away from all the Eastside music venues and nightlife I’d enjoy in my early twenties and an even shorter distance from the cool vintage shops and cafes of Long Beach. Right out of High School, I lived at home while pursuing my ambitions in acting while working in retail. I was always scrapping buy, barely having enough gas to get me to and from work in Santa Monica. The idea of earning rent money was impossible for me to envision, and my Mom wasn’t able to financially supplement any desire to live in an apartment on my own or with roommates (which is fair). Truthfully, I never tried that hard to find a place with roommates after my dysfunctional experience in Venice.
The fact I was born in Southern California and was living in a great centralized location made it easy to extend my stay in the nest. Around 21, I decided acting wasn’t as soul-fulfilling as I had initially thought, and I explored other areas of interest with the hopes of discovering a new life path. I interned at art galleries, a music magazine, a social media platform, all while curating art shows, interviewing artists and musicians, and saying yes to any opportunity that was presented to me. I never took the fact I was navigating my twenties with a low overhead for granted. I recognized that the opportunity to live at home comfortably is part of what allowed me to take non-paid internships while working 30 hours a week at whichever retail gig I had at the moment. When my peers were graduating college with bachelor degrees and securing great entry-level positions, I was cobbling together a slew of internships and “some college credits” to establish the foundation of a career path.
When I had taken another semester off from community college, I remember my Mom and I got in a huge fight. She was concerned I wouldn’t know how to support myself and felt the need to cut me off. At that moment, I asked her for four years, to give me four years to figure it out. I had just decided I no longer wanted to pursue acting and would need time to figure out what was next, but I assured her I would figure it out. By the time 25 rolled around, I had secured a position as a Digital Marketing Manager for a small hair care line and was financially independent. I could afford to pay monthly rent, along with money for my cell phone, car insurance, health insurance, and any other adult-level expenses.
It was around this time I declared that I would move out by 28 or move in with a person I fell in love with, whichever came first. Well, I ended up meeting a fantastic guy and fell in love with him, and he ended up moving in with my Mom and me about a year later. We weren’t engaged, just in love. Unfortunately, he lost his job due to a trivial time and attendance penalty at his work that is now abolished because the company kept losing too many valuable employees. It was bad timing and not a part of the plan we had been discussing. But moving in with my Mom could provide a sense of stability while he temped and waited the six month probation period before being rehired by his former employer.
When it was about the time we were able to move out into our own place together, we instead decided to travel around the country on a thirty-day road trip. I quit my job with the hair care company, and the boyfriend had enough clout to go on a temporary leave of absence at his job to go on this adventure. An amazing life-long dream of mine that I was able to make come true for several reasons, living with my Mom one of the contributing factors.
There has always been a good reason for staying at my Mom’s place, most of those reasons influenced by financial concerns. When the boyfriend became a fiancé, and we were saving for our wedding and honeymoon — the rent with my Mom can’t be beat. The following year after we got married when my father came back into my life, and I had to start financially supporting him –the low rent was a godsend. When I got hired by an amazing company last year, my husband and I finally found ourselves in the financial position to aggressively pay down debt and put money into savings – thanks to our rent being so incredibly low. Living with my Mom is an incredible blessing and has allowed me to live a full and interesting life. At one point, it was the stability that allowed me to find my place in this world to thrive. Now, it’s the foundation to build a strong financial future for my family. I’ve always been grateful for the opportunity to live with my Mom while figuring out this thing called life, but not without that gratitude being cocooned by a blanket of shame.
It’s not hard to figure out I live with my Mom, but I’m also not 100% open about it. I’m secretive and vague about my living situation. When I post to Instagram, I try and change the angles, so it doesn’t look like I’m in a big house, or I won’t show a before and after of some yard work because I don’t want people to wonder how I have such a big yard. I don’t lie, but I try and control the questions that might be asked. My inner child protects it’s self from scrutiny and doesn’t want to give ammo to people to attack me and judge me. I grew up in a five-bedroom house, it’s massive, and I would not be able to afford it in today’s Southern California housing market. Yet, I get to reap the rewards of having a big space. My husband has his own recording studio space. I have my own office. Our dog has a big backyard where she can run around as she pleases.
When we went into quarantine, I wasn’t worried about my husband and I but knew it was my mother who would eventually get under my skin. We actually have a really great relationship with hilarious banter that amuses the hell out of my husband. My Mom and I have a joke that we’re Grey Gardens except I got married. She even signed my wedding guest book with Big Edie. We get along great – we must if I’ve continued to live with her for 15 years of my adult life. Yet, she is still my Mom, and there are quirks about her that strains my nerves, so on days like that I’ll lovingly close my hallway door and say, “I’m pretending like I live in my own place.” What I wasn’t expecting was that being in quarantine with my Mom has helped me to shed my shame around living with her. My landlord is my Mom, and my landlord provides toilet paper and internet free of charge.
If you’re wondering if you have shame around something, look to what you find yourself afraid of people knowing and what puts you in defense if it’s brought up. When a client of mine figured out I lived with my Mom, I clammed up, I felt the shame tighten around my throat and my anxiety shot up causing the heat to rise in my body. I was forced to acknowledge that yes, I live with my Mom, and then quickly rolled out all the “caveats and justifications” for living with her. I am always at the ready to defend my little secret if it is found out, and that defensive secretive nature is not healthy. I’m tired of keeping up a ruse and finding some clever way to sell my living situation for someone else’s approval. I no longer want to justify my living situation to the imaginary judges in my head or real life. I’m coming to realize that I’m not on trial, and I don’t need to provide evidence for my life decisions. Although I already outlined the case above, so I guess consider this my closing statement.
Forty-eight days into California’s “stay-at-home” mandate, and I’m experiencing a new appreciation and pride for living with my Mom. Again, I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to live with my mother at a time where the world is facing enormous economic insecurity. My husband and I have our jobs, but I know that isn’t the case for a majority of people, and I can’t help but be heartsick about the fear and pain the pandemic has caused. I can choose to get caught up in a very helpless feeling, wallowing in my privilege and feeling sorry for myself – but that’s a lame decision and doesn’t help anyone. What helps is recognizing and being appreciative of the low overhead and expendable income I have, so it’s my responsibility to donate to different causes, buy goods from small businesses, and take out food from our favorite restaurants.
I no longer want to live in the shadow of my shame. I’m ready to step into the light, shed my shame, and celebrate that I live with my Mom. I get to eat my mother’s delicious cooking at least once a week. I get to enjoy my mother’s green thumb and her beautiful collection of blooming orchids. I get to laugh with my Mom, really deep soulful laughter that makes you want to pee your pants. I benefit from her addiction to ice cream and love for pastries with coffee. When I am having a difficult time with the weight of this pandemic, all I have to do is walk to the other side of the house and get a hug from my Mom.
It took a pandemic for me to realize just how lucky I am to live with my Mom, and to carry any shame around it is silly. I’ll choose to uproot that seed and won’t give it fertile soil to regrow. Some people will think less of me and judge that I live with my Mom. Some will think it’s smart in the expensive housing market of Los Angeles. Some won’t have any opinion at all. Yet shame doesn’t need evidence for it to feel real, it will just color your belief system with its truth. Without my shame, here is the real truth – the truth is that I love living with my Mom. I also want to move out and get my own place with my husband. The truth is that I’m afraid my Mom will be lonely when we move out. Also, I’m going to really miss my daily hugs and showing off my outfits to my Mom. So, until we move on to our own place, I’m going to really appreciate and cherish every day I get to live with my Mom. She is an incredible woman, and I’m blessed to be her daughter.