From the staff

Column: Life with Mom has its share of fun, frustration

snagem@newsobserver.comDecember 13, 2012 

NAGEM.100109.TI

Sarah Nagem

TAKAAKI IWABU — Staff photo by Takaaki Iwabu

When I heard the news, I thought for sure everything good in life would come crashing down. My independence. My place in the world. All things fun.

My mother was moving in with me.

I was 28 and had worked hard to build an existence I was proud of. I was less than thrilled to let her barge in on that.

But family dynamics and financial realities trumped my doubts. In the midst of the economic downturn, rent and gas prices were sky high, and it simply made sense for Mom and me to become roommates and split the bills.

And it still makes sense, more than two years later.

Lots of other people have had the same idea. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the number of parents living with adult children jumped from 2.3 million in 2000 to 3.6 million in 2007.

And the number of all families doubling up – be they parent-child, siblings or any other combination – jumped 11.7 percent from 2008 to 2010, according to the Census Bureau.

Easy? No way

I won’t sugarcoat it – it’s not easy. Personality conflicts that can be ignored when you don’t share a kitchen can quickly boil over in tight living quarters.

For married couples with children who have a parent move in, I can only imagine the struggle.

I didn’t have to worry about that. My concerns were perhaps simpler but nonetheless genuine: I didn’t want my mother asking me where I was, what time I’d be home or whom I was with. I didn’t want her to give me grief about how many glasses of wine I had with dinner.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that we had a bad relationship. Growing up in West Virginia, I was very close with my mom – maybe too close in some ways. I never wanted to be away from her.

But I was pretty independent by college. And after graduating from college, I moved to a different state to start a new life.

It was a shock to both of us to find ourselves under the same roof again.

Are we missing out?

I can’t help but wonder if I’m missing out on great things. Most of my friends from back home are married and have started families. I’m sharing Hershey’s bars with Mom.

I also wonder if she’s missing out. Long-ago divorced and quickly approaching retirement age, she should be planning adventures and spoiling her grandchildren. Instead, she’s subjected to my moodiness and walks my dog when I come home late at night.

And – I admit it – there’s some resentment. Living with a parent makes the things that are tough anyway even tougher.

Like dating.

And finding motivation to do adult things such as loading the dishwasher.

Truth is, I’ve gotten spoiled. I rarely cook, because I figure whatever I throw together won’t taste nearly as good as anything Mom makes. I know if I leave my clothes sitting in the dryer long enough, she’ll fold them without complaining about it.

Just like always, she’s there for me. When I faced a health crisis, she rarely left my side. A couple of years ago, she sat up with me all night when I got my heart broken.

We don’t always have a lot to talk about these days. Her job as a preschool teacher and mine as a journalist can seem worlds apart.

But along the way, we’ve found some common ground.

We both adore my siblings’ children. We love my crazy dog. And most evenings, we sit on the couch together and laugh hysterically at reruns of “The Big Bang Theory.”

We’re no Sheldon and Leonard, but we have fun. Most of the time.

I’ve had worse roommates.

Sarah Nagem is editor of The News & Observer’s Cary News and Southwest Wake News.

snagem@newsobserver.com or 919-460-2605

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