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Adulting 101: How to manage clashes when parents and adult children share a roof

SINGAPORE — After I started my first full-time job in 2019, there was one common refrain echoed by all of my friends when we met for meals to catch up: “I cannot wait to move out.”

Adulting 101: How to manage clashes when parents and adult children share a roof

Tensions can arise when an adult child returns to the family home after a period of studying abroad.

Adulthood is an invigorating stage of life as young people join the workforce, take on more responsibilities and set their sights on the future. But its many facets — from managing finances and buying a home to achieving work-life balance — can be overwhelming.

In this series, TODAY’s journalists help young Singaporeans navigate this stage of their lives and learn something themselves in the process.

 

SINGAPORE — After I started my first full-time job in 2019, there was one common refrain echoed by all of my friends when we met for meals to catch up: “I cannot wait to move out.”

With a taste of financial freedom came a desire for more independence. But there were also other push-factors they mentioned for wanting to fly out of the coop.

One friend was feeling frustrated over still being treated like a kid by her parents who continued to impose curfews on their adult child even as she entered her mid-20s.

At one point, the idea of installing a GPS tracking app to know her whereabouts was floated by her parents, to much consternation.

Another friend bemoaned losing her privacy after having to shift back into a room shared with her siblings.

She had gotten used to enjoying the luxuries of having a dormitory room all to herself while she was in university.

Then there are the usual squabbles about cleanliness and mess. This friend said: “My mum is both a hygiene and neat freak, so it’s very difficult.”

Some of these frustrations came to a head during the circuit-breaker period last year, when the partial lockdown meant having to be at home with family members at all hours of the day, resulting in more clashes.

For my part, I, too, sympathised with some of the pains of navigating living with parents as an adult.

Having lived abroad for four years while I was at university, I got used to having my own routines and habits without needing to consult or keep anyone in the loop.

Moving back to Singapore in 2019, there was a “reverse culture shock” of suddenly being back under my parents’ roof again and re-adjusting to their habits and rules.

Now, before parents pull out their pitchforks, don’t get me wrong — I am endlessly appreciative of having a place where I can live rent-free with most of the bills and daily necessities taken care of by my parents.

My friends say the same as well — that while they yearn for their own freedom and to chart their own paths as adults, they love their parents and are grateful for their care and support.

But tensions are inevitable as children form their own preferences and desires in adulthood and parents come to the realisation that their children have grown up, and have to learn to let go.

LEARNING TO LET GO

To write this column, I wanted to give parents a chance to air their perspectives, so I spoke to a friend’s mum who has learned the art of letting go and reaching a compromise.

This friend has gotten into disagreements with her mum in the past, but they have always managed to come to a compromise, or if not, at least an understanding, after talking things out.

When I asked her mum how she manages her relationships with her three adult children, she said that she made a note to herself to let go and not interfere too much in their lives once they enter university.

For example, if they wish to have parties and have friends over, she has no problems so long as they seek permission first.

That being said, for issues that are of concern to her, she would still want to make her feelings known to her kids.

For instance, she would not feel comfortable if her daughter wanted to stay over at her boyfriend’s place.

But ultimately, if her daughter still decides to do so after she has said her piece, she would learn to accept it.

After all, it would be worse if the issue caused a strife in their relationship and her daughter stopped confiding in her as a result.

“(If her decision does not turn out well) at least she can still come back to me. If, let’s say, I were to burn all bridges, then after that, where is she going to turn to?

“The connection (between parent and child) must still be there. If she has nowhere to go then it’ll just be worse,” she reasoned.

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

The level of understanding between my friend and her mum, while admirable, may not be easy to achieve, so I spoke to two counsellors for advice on how young adults can better manage their relationships with their parents as they seek to gain more control over their lives in adulthood.

Both of them said that though it will definitely be challenging, good and clear communication of your needs and wants is key to managing expectations between both parties.

Ms Clarice Ng, a counsellor at MindWhatMatters clinic who works mainly with youth and young adults, said that it also helps to be assertive and specific about what you want from your parents.

For example, instead of telling your parents to stop doing something you don’t like, you should let them know what you would like to see them do instead.

“When you keep repeating that you don’t want (your parents to do something), your parents don’t know what you want them to do because to them, this is the only way they know how to show their concern,” she said.

Ms Theresa Pong, counselling director at The Relationship Room, said that it could be helpful for young adults to try to see things from their parents’ perspective — listen to what their concerns really are and try to provide reassurance that their fears are unfounded.

For instance, if the conflict is over staying out late at night, Ms Pong said that you can provide your parents more frequent updates on when you are going home or let them know the time you will be heading back and stick to it.

“This is a period where you’re trying to build trust and assurance with them. Once that trust is built, they will be assured that you know how to manage this newfound freedom. Then, slowly over time, they will let go,” she said.

That being said, both counsellors acknowledged that changes will not happen overnight and many conversations on the same topic may need to take place before both parties come to a compromise.

Still, they agreed that talking things out is better than ignoring or avoiding the issue or your parents altogether, because doing so will make the situation and relationship worse.

For parents, Ms Ng said they should try to understand that it is a natural part of a young adult’s development to want to try and establish themselves as individuals.

It would also be helpful for parents to realise that the way they are communicating their needs may be pushing their children away instead of coming to a consensus.

For example, making statements like, “You don’t want me anymore is it?” or “You’re being so rude”, may turn their children off more.

“If they want to stay close to their kids, they should support them in the process (of becoming an individual), rather than push them away,” Ms Ng said.

REACHING COMPROMISE

What the counsellors said about these tough conversations requiring time and patience, my friends and I have certainly waded through them.

Some disagreements I’ve had with my parents have seen me take five steps back before making strides forward.

But eventually, I do think progress can be made.

For instance, after our family dog of 18 years passed away in 2019, my mother was adamant that we could not have any more pets in the family because she did not feel that my siblings and I were up for the responsibility.

But I argued that things were different now — unlike when we first got our dog, I was now an adult and ready to take on all the responsibilities of another pet.

I tried many ways of convincing her, only for her to say “no” each time.

Then somehow, early this year, she surprisingly agreed and in May, we welcomed a cat to join the family.

Perhaps our conversations helped push the needle.

But I would also like to believe that my helping around the house and showing that I can be mature and responsible was what sealed the deal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tessa Oh is a journalist at TODAY, where she covers health, manpower and the environment.

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