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My Name is Devika and I Live at Home with My Parents

By: Devika Rao Email By: Devika Rao
January 2011
My Name is Devika and I Live at Home with My Parents It’s no hidden secret that Indians are a special bunch with special habits. For example, we like to study for hours and become doctors. When we fall in love, we sing on mountain tops and dance in shiny outfits that make a house of mirrors seem like it’s on a caffeine kick. We nosh on curry and yogurt as if there was no tomorrow. And, we are bombarded by day-to-day questions about arranged marriages, beef, and those little dots on the forehead. We get it—we are a cultural tourist attraction.

But our values are easily missed by passers-by, and those who come close enough to observe us are often judgmental. About a year ago, when Oprah Winfrey hosted Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan on her show, she asked them, somewhat judgmentally, about the Indian custom of children living with parents even after getting married. Bachchan calmly responded that it was the Indian way, leaving the Queen of Media speechless. “It’s normal,” said Rai. “It’s absolutely natural to us.”

It’s not natural to America. And therefore we find ourselves often doling out tiresome explanations about why we live that way. As the new generations grow up here, the concept of living away from your parents only seems to strike us as natural, and we too join our American counterparts in chorusing “Omg! Can’t wait to get out of my parents’ house.” It has become a social stigma to live at home, and we feel humiliated when we have to reveal we’re living with parents.

A friend asked me if I was “ever going to leave my parents’ house.” My response was: “No, my lifelong dream is to live in their basement and play World of Warcraft.” No offense, gamers. What has not occurred to any of my friends is that I actually like my parents. I love them dearly, but I also actually like them. Both of them are my friends in their own respect and strengths. I lived with them for all that time before I went to college. What is so different now?

But it is not just people in their late 20s who cringe at the idea. The stigma carries over to people much older. My parents’ non-Indian friends are already tired of me living at my parents’ house. “When is she going to move out?” is a question I often hear them asking, as is “Aren’t you tired of having her there all the time?” In reality, there have been days when I have not even seen my parents due to our different schedules. But I’ve often wanted to ask my parents’ friends, “Why does it bother you so much? I am not at your house.”

Here’s my rebuttal: if my parents were tired of my being there, then why did they have me in the first place? This nuclear attitude prompts grocery chains to advertise “family dinners” on television. So, it takes corporate America to teach us how to be as a family? Ironic, isn’t it? Or is it that only young offsprings are family and adult ones not?

Dining with a friend at a restaurant once, I noticed a family of four sitting next to us. They had come in at the same time we had, and this is how the night unfolded: Four faces into a menu. Place order. Son is gaming on Nintendo DS. Daughter is texting away. Mom and Dad not even speaking, but staring around the restaurant. It was a sad scene, but one that we have all seen too often. Articles and research flood the journals claiming that eating dinner as a family “boosts morale and communication.” You don’t need grant money to tell you that simple fact. But in my family, and I hope in yours, we already do that.

Autonomy is a great thing to possess. I think everyone should do a few selfish things in their life before marriage comes into play, and one of them is to live alone. But our cultural differences do lead to differences in lifestyle, and these should not be embarrassing or socially stifling. I admit, when I moved home from college, it was indeed maddening to have to answer to my parents. For four years, I was not used to checking in, telling anyone where I was going or when I was coming back. Both parties had to adjust to the new situation, my parents and myself. One set had to let go and the other had to understand.

The 22-year-old in me was embarrassed to live at home or say that I did, but the 25-year-old in me, today, is enormously happy that I did…and that I still do. Why? I focused and invested time in my career—time I would have otherwise spent working a second job to make rent, utilities, and a car payment. At the same time, I learned monetary independence, so I could understand what I can and cannot afford and what my responsibilities are. I learned that patience and hard work eventually pay off. I am not saying that the people who do not live at home or those who work two jobs, or even five do not learn all this; I am saying that if, at some point, you are given the easy way out…take it and use it to your utmost advantage.

This does not make me a loser or socially unacceptable.

Honestly, I cannot wait to have my own home, and not when I am married either. The concept of ownership and my desire for a whole space that is completely mine excite me—and, my dream will slowly come true. But, I am not going to make a premature investment to fit into a culture whose morals and values, at times, do not match mine. Explaining all of this takes a lengthy and tiresome stroll down the winding cultural lane.

But, at the end of the day, we should not have to explain anyway.


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