The very idea of living with your parents after experiencing the sweet freedom of adulthood is the stuff of nightmares. No one wants this. And if you do, it tends to mean that you’re a ne’er-do-well who only gets human contact on Twitch. In fact, saying that someone lives in their parents’ basement has become a hack shorthand for “loser.”
Yet, in the time of quarantine, many, many, many adults are moving back into their childhood bedrooms.
For some New Yorkers, returning home during the pandemic is a new reason to vilify the trust-fund set. They’re scouring social media for signs that someone isn’t in their 700-square-foot Red Hook studio and are instead holed-up in their parents’ McMansion in Connecticut. If you’re not posting, it’s an immediate indictment, and these online sleuths are fully prepared to ban you from NYC forever. Enjoy living in New Haven with your mom for life, bitch!
But not all parental quarantines are poor little rich kids violating stay-at-home orders so they can return to palatial childhood estates and infect the suburban communities where they’re temporarily residing. A lot of adult children are shacking up with mom and dad for more practical reasons: loss of income.
And it’s not just progeny moving back home either. In some cases, empty nesters are finding the tables turned as they move into their kids’ homes, allowing their children the sweet satisfaction of saying “my house, my rules” at long last to their parents.
Even with the best of intentions, it’s an arrangement that can lead to strained relationships, especially when you’re trapped inside together. “Some people find it very fulfilling to be constantly surrounded by family members that they don’t usually get to spend time with, but most are really struggling to find the necessary personal space to complete their tasks for the day and get their solitude sanity,” says Heather McPherson, a couples’ therapist and founder of Respark Therapy.
“I’ve heard from people that they’re struggling with their in-laws not agreeing on their everyday life routines,” she continues. “If they have kids, this might be affecting everyday choices or decisions in raising them. Sleep schedules are also being disrupted. Some family members might want to sleep in, while others are up at 5 a.m.”
For the empty nesters I speak to, the biggest problem seems to be their adult children reverting back to their teen years. So while 48-year-old Robin feels like she’s become closer to her 24-year-old son since he’s moved back in, he’s also driving her up the wall with his loud voice, constant door slamming and slob tendencies. Their biggest blow up came when she caught him sneaking out of the house to visit his girlfriend. Robin is in a high-risk group and wasn’t having it: “He thought he was slick thinking we wouldn’t know he left, but he forgot we have cameras. I have stage IV breast cancer so we had to constantly remind him that we don’t care if he gets sick (j/k), but I can’t get this shit or I will be in the hospital. I had to send him some articles and do A LOT of yelling, but he gets it now.” (She does clarify, however, that she still very much loves “my loud, annoying, messy son to the moon and back.”)
The kids, though, aren’t the only ones with sloppy social-distancing habits. Shannon, a 30-year-old in Arizona, is currently quarantined with her Fox News-loving mother, who is also a little lax about following the rules. “We’ve had multiple discussions about how idiots who keep going out and doing random shit are just making this last longer,” she says. “Well, within the past week, she’s had our landscaper AND her dog groomer over — because apparently that’s super essential right now!”
Her mom whiffs on this count even when she’s doing something responsible like getting fabric masks. “My mom left the other day to pick up some masks her friend made. She comes home two hours later with 16 masks!?” Shannon exclaims. “I asked her what took so long, and she replied, ‘We were just hanging out and catching up!’ Then she added, ‘Don’t worry, I didn’t touch anything.’”
Robbie, a 30-year-old in South Carolina, is also dealing with a family member who isn’t the most well-informed. “The worst part about being quarantined is dealing with my mother-in-law, who apparently gets all of her news from Facebook and will take any conspiracy she hears and run with it.”
She knew this was going to be a problem from the moment they picked her up to move her in. Because Robbie lives near a military base, it’s normal to see military vehicles on the freeway, but her mother-in-law wasn’t having it. “She was convinced we were going to be under martial law and that we needed to find out how to get the National Guard to deliver food to us. She also has a thing about pronouncing and spelling words incorrectly, which drives me absolutely insane. She spells the word ‘pissed’ P-I-S-T and says things like “twiced” and calls ULTA [the makeup brand] ULTRA? Anyways, it’s hell.”
Meanwhile, Andrew, a 35-year-old in Dallas, and his dad — who he describes as “part Boomer/part hippie” — are having a pretty typical Boomer-millennial battle about technology. Namely, that Andrew doesn’t have cable and gets his news via his phone. “He doesn’t do anything on his phone, and it’s just nonstop him bitching at me about not paying for cable,” Andrew says. “When I explained to him that I don’t consume news that way, he couldn’t wrap his head around it and gets physically irritated.”
When his dad finally relented, Andrew tried to show him how to use the iPad. But if you’ve ever attempted to explain technology to a senior, I’m guessing you know how that went: “I walked him through how to use my iPad to watch ‘news videos.’ His frustration paired with my exasperation eventually led to me texting my sister to call him and tell him to shut the hell up.”
There is, however, one way in which Andrew has become the parent and his dad the child. “My father decided to make a homemade hitter out of a Coke can in my living room at 1 a.m. on his first night here,” Andrew tells me. “I’m very much pro-legalization. I just don’t smoke, and this area is very conservative. But my dad would go smoke on my porch on the first floor of a single building apartment complex. That led to an awkward conversation the next morning.”
Although the majority of these families are quarantining together for financial reasons, some are doing it specifically because a parent needs extra care. Combine that with having to work from home as well as raise your children, and you can see why people are slowly losing their minds. People like Andrea, a 39-year-old in Seattle who has a five-year-old and a two-year-old while also caring for a mother-in-law stricken with Alzheimer’s. Her father-in-law is there, too, but he isn’t much help. “Everyone is constantly yelling at each other because they can’t hear shit,” she tells me. “It’s nonstop chaos. My father-in-law goes to the ‘store’ every day for hours. I really think he’s just smoking cigarettes in his car. It reminds me of the shitshow Clark Griswold had in his house on Christmas Eve.”
Christine is caring for her “high-risk” mother, and the only thing keeping her sane is adding a little hooch to her beverages, starting with her morning coffee. Otherwise, she can’t with her mom, who she recently got into it with over Kleenex. “I’d gone through nearly a whole box of tissues during an allergy attack, and my mom started to get anxious and told me that I need to be more conservative with their use because ‘that’s the last box we have.’” When Christine pointed out a three pack of tissue boxes to her mom, “she irritatedly replied, ‘You can’t use those — those are in case we run out of toilet paper,’ to which I retorted, ‘I bought them for whichever end needs them first and right now that’s my face!’”
Now, you’re all probably wondering what sex and masturbation are like in these situations. As someone who was long haunted by the squeaky bed springs of my constantly fucking mom, I can’t imagine wanting to hear those sounds again, and I certainly don’t need anyone hearing the low hum of a motor coming from my room. (Why is the Magic Wand so fucking loud!?!?)
This isn’t just an important concern for horny reasons, it’s also about your health. According to sex therapist Jennifer Valli, “Whether people are partnered or solo, anxiety is up during this time, so people may be seeking the release that an orgasm offers. We know that orgasms help relieve pain, reduce stress and improve sleep. Orgasms boost the immune system, increase life span and help people have higher levels of cognitive functioning. This isn’t the time to stop.” (We need to cum to survive this — that’s my takeaway.)
Valli has some tips for people struggling to find some alone time, with or without a partner. “Consider telling your parents that you’re going to go lie down for a nap. Hopefully they have some boundaries. You might get a sound machine or use an app that provides white noise, as well,” she says. “If you’re stuck being in an open common space, there’s a lot you can do under a blanket, and if all else fails, you have the bathroom for privacy.”
Robbie has had numerous awkward experiences with her in-laws, including her mother-in-law walking in on her completely naked as well as her father-in-law having an uncomfortable meeting in the kitchen late one night with her sweaty, post-sex husband. “It’s definitely affected our sex life. We’re still doing it, just not as often, and it isn’t as enjoyable because I feel like I’m 16 again and sneakily trying to have silent sex in the room next to my parents,” she tells me.
On the other hand, Robin definitely still finds the time to have stress-relieving orgasms despite her son being back at home. “Our sex life is the same as always,” she says, adding that she’s not worried about awkwardness. “Our son grew up hearing us sometimes. I just don’t want to hear him!”
Well, luckily, she’s gotten the girlfriend out of the picture, but if I were her, I’d avoid any and all stinky gym socks when cleaning up after such a loud, messy, large adult son.