Working from home...with your parents

May 26, 2020

5 mins

Working from home...with your parents
Madeleine Crean


It was mid-March when reality set in: we were heading for a national lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19. Many of us had to make quick decisions. Do I want to spend the foreseeable future holed up in my tiny rented room? Would I be better off bunking up with my parents? After all, how long could this possibly last?

Nearly 250,000 people left London as the lockdown was imposed. Many young people opted to leave cramped flats and university halls, and say hello to their new desk buddies, Mum and Dad. Our busy lives have seldom allowed us so much time with family. For some, it’s come with an unwanted blast from their teenage past. For others, there is a grim reality attached to the situation: the fear of making a vulnerable relative ill. Whether you’re craving a return to independent living or dealing with the anxiety of infecting your household, here are some tips to keep holding it together until this ends.

How did we get here?

It’s hard to say the coronavirus lockdown came out of nowhere, but sometimes, things don’t hit home until they’re knocking at your door. For those who are holed up with their parents, the situation sprung itself on them with haste and there was no time for planning. Edvard Bruun, a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, was working on an exhibition in London when the impending lockdown put a dampener on his plans to return to school. He had no choice but to head to his parent’s house, where he’s already spent nearly two months sleeping in his childhood bedroom.

For journalist Leo Wigger, the situation is turned on its head. A short visit from Mum to his new flat in Berlin turned into an extended stay. “Three days have basically turned into two months,” he said. His mum lives in Sofia but got stranded in Berlin when Bulgaria suddenly closed its borders with EU nations worst affected by coronavirus. “The situation is a bit weird because I have a flatmate. He’s the son of a friend of hers. They do know each other very well so it’s not that awkward, but it’s still strange. We just moved into a flatshare and suddenly my mum is moving in with us as well,” he said.

If you are feeling as if you could have sorted out your lockdown situation better, don’t. We all had to make quick and difficult decisions. We are all making the best of an uncomfortable situation.

How old am I, again?

Many of us haven’t lived at home for years, and it can feel a bit like traveling back in time. Your parents’ house can feel as much like a mindset as a space. Some of us have ended up back in our childhood bedrooms, surrounded by memories of our teenage years. “Sitting in my teenage room, I feel like a kid again. All my old clothes are here and I keep running upstairs for snacks,” said Bruun. “You do kind of regress into a child-like state.” There is a positive side to the situation, though. While you sit there with your past painted on the walls, living under the same roof as your parents for the first time in years, it can be an experience of day-to-day life with your parents that you’ll maybe never have had again if it wasn’t for the pandemic. For Bruun, visits to his parents usually fly by and there is rarely the chance to spend quality time together. “This is the first time in 10 years that we are living together in the same space. We’ve moved past the pleasantries, the big news that you have when you haven’t seen your family in a while. We’re on to the daily topics of discussions, and it’s nice.”

It is easy to associate living with your parents with regression if you haven’t shared a home with them since you were a kid. Even if it feels a bit uncomfortable, it’s temporary. Wigger has learned to appreciate the old family dynamics of living together. “It’s so easy to fall back into old patterns, on both sides. It annoys me from time to time when I feel like I’m going back in time,” he said. “But then I found this inner mantra: it’s just for the moment. It’s not going to be forever, and it’s actually really nice to have my mum here, so why not just relax and enjoy it.”

How to carve out your own space

Working from home is hard enough, and doing it with your parents around can make it more difficult. A key way of maintaining your independence is to create your own space, both socially and physically. Austen Crean, who works in digital marketing, says that having his own room with a desk to work at has been a godsend. “Luckily, during the working day we all have our own spaces so we stay out of each others’ hair and don’t really talk that much,” he said. “If I didn’t have my own space, they’d be getting on my nerves more because they talk so loudly on the phone.”

This isn’t necessarily an option for everyone. Claudia Montes, a documentarist, admits that work is difficult to manage. “It’s tricky working from my parent’s house. They sometimes interrupt me when I am working, just because I’m there. If they need something, they just knock on my door,” she said. “But we are adapting to each other’s schedules.”

You are definitely not the only one whose video meetings get interrupted—we’ve all heard crying babies, screaming kids, and general flatmate antics going on in the background.. As time goes on, try to find a routine and let each other know when you have calls, and when you need silence.

Living with your family again also comes with a shift in social dynamic. Suddenly you are back to sharing your entire life with your parents. Montes said, “Sometimes my parents organize my day. But that time is my free time after I work for eight hours, so I want to take advantage of my time on my own terms. It’s more complicated at your parent’s house. Sometimes I do it happily, but at other times I really want to do things on my own.”

Don’t let yourself feel obligated. If you need time to yourself, take it. Sitara Chowfla, an independent art curator, said, “The beginning was probably the most difficult because we were trying to do too many bonding activities, and the idea of all of this group routine time was quite frustrating. It’s mellowed out over time and we’ve all found a rhythm that works for us. We’re more focused on our regular work and there are fewer ‘wild, experimental lockdown projects’ being done to fill the time.”

Keeping Mum and Dad safe

The threat of coronavirus is unnerving for us all. Given the more serious impact the virus has on the elderly and the vulnerable, some young people are extremely anxious about their parents catching it. It is stressful to carry not only the weight of your own health but that of your parents as well. Montes says she’s being extra cautious for their sake and making sure they do the same. “I ask them to be careful because I worry about them. The roles have changed in a way, I am the one worried about their health,” she said.

Take necessary precautions, educate yourself, and keep safe. We are all on edge about our own well-being and that of those around us, but take solace in knowing that you are doing all you can to keep your household healthy.

Silver linings

Now we’ve passed the initial shock and confusion, take a deep breath and embrace the silver lining. Being holed up with Mum and Dad can be difficult, but it’s a rare occurrence to have this level of connection with our parents at this stage in our lives. Wigger believes the experience has brought the family closer. “It’s just for a short time, and it has a lot of nice side effects for us as a family. Embracing that for the moment is cool,” he said. This too shall pass, and before we know it we’ll be back to our busy, independent day-to-day lives. But for now, take a step back and appreciate the little things.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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