Moving Back With My Parents During the Pandemic Was My Only Choice — and the Best Thing For Me
Throughout college, no matter where I lived, I had a “wall of stuff” that went up the day I moved in, and left with me at the end of each semester. It’s a collection of postcards, posters, photos and miscellaneous items that I collect and hold dear, and I became an expert at assembling and disassembling my wall throughout four years of college. Every May, the day before my yearly flight back to Istanbul from New York City, I would play music and take apart my wall. It was almost an adjustment step. I had gotten used to the constant goodbyes to apartments and to friends — but I always knew it was a goodbye that would meet its hello just a few months later.
In 2020, that goodbye felt very different. When I was taking apart my wall of stuff in March, I wasn’t playing music and dancing. I had around six hours to pack up my room and leave New York until… well, no one really knew. And as an international student, my school’s emergency mandate to clear out from the dorms was easier said than done. Cases of COVID-19 were rising particularly quickly in New York, and I was among those faced with a very difficult question: “Do I stay, and try to brave it out in this foreign country with health insurance that is about to expire and without any certainty of getting a job? Or do I go back home to my family, and maybe risk my visa in the process?”
Making this decision was difficult, and when I decided to move back to Istanbul, I was grateful that I had somewhere to go, but it felt like a step backward in my plan, not the step forward I had intended. I had plans for 2020 — plans that included graduating, landing my first job, and moving into my first real apartment. Needless to say, all of those plans changed. Instead, I finished my senior year online from my childhood bedroom. I always thought I would move back to Turkey after living in New York and maybe even a couple other cities, but it happened sooner than I imagined.
It was the most sensible decision, no matter how disappointing it might have felt in the moment. After a tearful goodbye, a 10-hour flight and two weeks quarantining at my grandmother’s empty apartment, I was back home. Back to my parents’ warm embrace, and the bedroom with multicolored walls and “Pirates of the Caribbean” posters that I have not changed since middle school. Though I would visit every summer, I hadn’t “lived at home” since moving to the U.S. for college. Realizing I had to account for a new path was stressful, in part because I love my parents, and I was worried that I might fall back to the comfort of being with them for longer than I needed to.
According to research published by the Pew Research Center in September, 52 percent of young adults aged 18-29 were living with their families last July, a number estimated to be the highest percentage since the Great Depression. Among everyone who moved during the pandemic, 23 percent cited their schools closing as a primary factor, and 18 percent said it was due to financial reasons, such as job loss or a furlough. Though living with parents for an extended period of time can help many young people save money as they start careers in low-paying positions, there’s still an undeniable stigma about doing so, writer Laura Bogart pointed out in BuzzFeed. Our early 20s, we are told, are a time to establish ourselves as adults — and reverting back to our childhood bedrooms can be seen as a defeat, failure, or both.
Of course, it’s worth noting that in Turkey, living with family is not as big of a deal as it is in America — some people don’t even move out of their parents’ homes until they get married. This helped cushion the setback, as did the knowledge that so many of my friends were going through the same process in their own way. Knowing that I was just one of the 2.6 million people who moved back “home” due to job loss or their colleges shutting down was itself a comfort, and I found a sense of community by watching TikToks about 20-somethings going back to live with their parents and the comforts and cahoots that resulted. Most of my friends — and especially the ones who resided outside of the U.S. — had also moved back with their families, and the more I thought about our collective but isolated experiences, the more I also began to sit with a different truth: Moving back home was not a sign of failure. It never had been.
Besides, in all the time spent wallowing about having to move home, I had forgotten that there were at least two other people now re-learning how to live with me. My parents were also experiencing a pandemic for the first time in their lives. My dad became my office buddy, and together we turned one corner of our house into his office. Meanwhile, my mom was still going into her office — she would wear double masks and leave windows open even in the middle of March.
As the days stretched on, I realized there was no one else I would rather navigate through this fog of uncertainty with. In the beginning, none of us knew how strict we had to be with the measures. We were getting groceries delivered and leaving them outside to air them out, and during periodic weekend lockdowns, the only entertainment we had was each other and our two dogs. Restaurants have only recently been allowed to offer anything but delivery service, and there is still a 9 p.m. curfew. It seems that people are relatively good about wearing masks here, but our vaccination rollout is pretty slow. The pandemic is still raging outside, but inside my parents and I were able to create a safe bubble of support and love. In a year of uncertainty and upsetting news, that has been invaluable.
As a family we found ourselves back in the kitchen for dinner, cooking and eating together just like we did before I left for college. It was hard to adjust to not seeing my friends in New York outside of Instagram and computer screens, and the time difference between my close friends in New York and myself is difficult. I would be lying if I said that my fear of missing out abated. There are still days when I miss New York, the life I left, and the life I planned to have, acutely. But just because things are different doesn’t mean they’re necessarily bad: I get to play with my dogs; eat delicious, home-cooked meals; and drink wine while dancing to random songs with my parents.
Just like my plans, the house I grew up in has also morphed into something new: The room in which I used to study for exams is now my remote “office,” meant to accomodate my freelance work for newspapers and magazines. My childhood bedroom had the same wall-of-stuff since middle school so I took it apart and put it in a folder like I always do, so I can start putting up pieces of new memories. I started applying to jobs in Istanbul, and while I grieved my loss of the life I had planned for myself in New York, I began trying to accept my current reality. I am still planning on going back, probably at the end of this year because I got accepted to a graduate program — but I am cautious in making definite statements now.
Either way, I am happy. Moving back home wasn’t the plan. But as it turns out, it was the best thing I could have done. Circumstances and plans change. That should not stop you from making them, it should just push you to make others.