The pandemic has impacted our lives in innumerable ways – financially, socially, and for many, geographically. Labourers have gone back to their native villages, expatriates are coming back to their countries of origin, elderly parents have come to live with their children, and young adults on the brink of finally cracking “adulting” and achieving true independence have found themselves doing something they never expected to do this soon – move back in with their parents.
Being locked in with family can be tricky to navigate even after having lived with them every day for years. Navigating this domestic terrain as a young adult woman who has been removed from it for a while, is bound to come with even more complications.
Read about these women’s experiences with coming back home during the lockdown, and their tips for other women going through a similar experience!
Coming Back Home After A Tryst With Independence
The last time Priyanka was home for more than 2 months in the last 7 years was after she had completed her undergraduate studies. Since then she has pursued a Master’s degree and got a job as a content creator. Now, having gone back to her hometown during the lockdown, she says that the transition to living with family has been more “weird” than difficult.
Shivani had spent a similar 6 years away from home – studying, interning and working. She says she never felt like she had to go through a period of transition or let go of her independence.
“I think I have to thank my parents for this. They’ve never really asked me “kaha jaa rahi ho, kyu jaa rahi ho, don’t do this, don’t do that”. Even when I was living away, they never nagged me or questioned my whereabouts. In fact, I keep updating them khud se,” she laughs.
Arundhati had been studying in London, before the lockdown was announced, and she caught a flight back home, mere days before her final exams were scheduled to take place. Having got her first taste of living alone, she says that being responsible for yourself does help instill a sense of maturity and freedom.
The transition to once again being answerable to family, she believes, was made slightly easier by the two weeks of self-quarantining she did in her room after coming back home. “It was probably the only silver lining about that period. The two weeks I stayed alone in my room were a good buffer period for me to let go of London and come back to normal life. I wasn’t interacting with my family and I was stuck in my room – but I was home. It was a good transition period.”
Is Their Relationship With Family Members The Same As It Was Before?
Shivani, Kanika, and Priyanka were all just 18 when they left home, and have now come back as adults having gone through essential formative experiences in the years they’ve been away.
Shivani believes that her living at home has been more of a change for her family than it has been for her. “It’s been difficult for them to cope with me – that this is not the same person who left. Especially my younger brother, who is very protective of his own space. He keeps asking my parents “why is she here, when will she go back?” At one point he threatened to call my boss and have me taken back to Mumbai,” she says with exasperated fondness.
Kanika had spent 3 years completing her undergraduate studies, and then another year working as an Assistant Director in Mumbai, away from home. She had packed for just three weeks when taking a flight back to her hometown when the lockdown was announced.
“Initially we all thought that I was just going to be home for a little while, so we got along great. None of us really put effort into ensuring long-term adjustment. Eventually we realised that this situation is not changing anytime soon so we might as well learn to live with each other,” she says with a laugh.
Her father, she says, was a little taken aback by the person she had become. She no longer hesitated to argue with him or tell him he was wrong, and it was difficult for him to reconcile with this.
Priyanka says that her parents raised her to be independent, but are constantly surprised when she proves she’s grown up to be just that.
“My parents are more surprised about the adjacent things about me like the fact that I can now handle my own finances. I try very hard to not lean on them for that. It’s surprising to them when they realise that I don’t want them to buy me clothes, or when I ask them to please stop paying my mobile bills!” she laughs.
She believes that this is ultimately a good thing for them as well, because now her parents are willing to be themselves with her much more now. They have been able to pull back the curtain that existed between them and their daughters. “For me it is a very good change – to be able to participate in grown up conversations and have them be open about their finances, or emotional and mental health with us.
Arundhati says a lot of her friends from London are still there, refusing to consider the option of living with their family for so long. She says she can understand that this might be the case for some, but that her relationship with her family has only evolved, in unsuspectingly small ways.
“We have been watching one episode of a TV show together every night. For the first time we could as a family talk about things that had only been skirted around or avoided before. Now we discuss frivolous matters like who the characters should end up with and how they need to stop hooking up with others. Now these are the kind of conversations I can have openly with my parents!” she says.
Being At Home Does Mean A Relative Lack Of Personal Space
Shivani did feel like a secretive teenager at her parents’ house sometimes. “If I’m talking on the phone then I have to filter everything. I used to journal a few months ago, and now I’m worried someone will read that diary! There’s nowhere to hide it in my house, so the diary is stuck to me. It goes everywhere I go in the house,” she laughs.
Kanika says her parents never stop her from doing what she wants, but she misses not having to explain the reasoning behind her decisions to her parents.
“For example,” she says, “I’m leaving for Mumbai again in a few weeks, and I really wanted to order from a restaurant that I like here before I left. But for that I have to sit down and tell my dad “It’s okay, I won’t contract the virus by ordering the food”. It’s a 5-minute conversation and eventually he was fine with it. But even that 5 minutes of explaining myself is something I’m not used to having to do now.”
Priyanka admits that she sometimes misses having enough personal space and time to herself. “I’m mostly an introvert and tend to have a limited energy supply. Living away from home, I had two whole days over the weekend where I could just not interact with anybody. I think that was very essential for me to recharge. That recharge period doesn’t exist now that I’m living with family.”
Home Is Still Where The Heart (And Respite From The World) Is
When I ask her if she’s upset about her time at London being cut short, Arundhati says that she had tonnes of plans to explore London – its art, culture and people – that she knew she had to let go of the minute she came back home. However, she says, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I would’ve missed my sister’s 18th birthday. I would have missed her getting her board results – when she topped her university. I was there for those important moments and I’m glad I was,” she smiles.
Kanika says that when she’s away from home she misses not having to be her own adult. “After coming back home, I realised that I had missed the stress-free way in which you know that you can depend on someone. Even the “corona paranoia” never really hit me because I knew if anything happened, I could just quarantine myself, and my parents would take care of everything else. Now that I’m going back to Mumbai, I realise that I cannot be that indifferent and reckless as I will have to do everything on my own again.”
Tips For Other Women Going Back Home During The Lockdown!
All the women unanimously agree that no matter what the issue is, proper communication is key.
“This is a long-term situation. If something a family member is doing or not doing irks you, don’t let it get bottled up. Communicate in a way that doesn’t seem like you’re attacking them but wanting to have an open conversation,” says Shivani.
She also advises that household chores be divided equally to avoid conflict and over-burdening.
“Try to meet your family in the middle and have a civil conversation,” Kanika suggests. “Your patience will be tested, you will find yourself getting super irritable, but you have to realise that this is a stressful situation anyway. Everybody is operating from that space. If you have any complaints or concerns – voice them out! And if they ask something of you, listen with the same open mind that you would wish from them.”
Priyanka says that ordinarily, she would not ask women to adjust, but a sudden change like the pandemic and the lockdown, warrant some changes in your personal life. “You need to adjust in a way that doesn’t compromise your values. It’s okay to do things a certain way if they make things easier for everybody,” she says.
“Also make it clear that you are trying to adapt to your family’s lifestyle, and that it’s okay if you mess up sometimes. For example, I’ve told my mother that occasionally if I forget to put something away it can’t be the end of the world. It’s not something I’m doing to purposely annoy her. I don’t have that kind of time to play pranks on them,” she laughs.
She also stresses that when you need to put your foot down about something, you should. However, the answer to conflict cannot always be anger, especially within the home. “When I was younger my response to conservatism was always anger. That anger works in certain spaces still, but it will not work if you’re having yelling matches inside your home. That’s not good for your mental or physical safety. Learn to stay calm during arguments and know when to say something and when not to.”
Arundhati agrees with this idea of a “give and take”. She points out that your family has not been privy to your evolution while you were away, so you have to show them through actions and open communication that you are a responsible adult.
“Remember that this time may never come again. You might move away for a job or to do other things. You might not be living with your family again like this for a long time. Make the most of it. Cook with them, cook for them, play board games, watch movies – have fun, and appreciate your time together,” she advises.
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