Not Leaving the Coop Has Its Advantages


If you aren’t still living with your parents, chances are you know someone who does.

Aiman Azahari recently moved back to stay with his mother after 25 years.

There are various reasons why some working adults in Malaysia continue to live with their parents – housing affordability being only one of them. “Economic factors are the most obvious reasons that we think of when adults choose to live with their parents. However, there are other intangible benefits that are often overlooked,” says Dr Chin Yee Whah, a professor of economic sociology at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

In most households, when the adult children choose to live with their parents, they may take on the responsibility of paying for household expenses. In exchange, the parents continue to provide a home for their children. This living arrangement brings about a co-dependency between the older parents and the adult children: the parents may no longer be working and so, with the children remaining at home and paying, the burden of household expenses is alleviated. The adult children in turn have a roof over their heads. On top of that, living with parents means there are additional pairs of eyes looking out for the grandchildren.

Aiman Azahari is a 34-year-old freelance writer. He is of mixed parentage: his father is Minang-Rawa while his mother is Malay-Chinese. “In the Minang culture, sons are expected to leave home at about seven or eight years old to go out and explore. Today, parents do not allow their kids to wander the streets, but as per tradition, I was sent away to live with my grandmother in Kuantan while my parents lived in KL. I only visited my parents during the school holidays.

“I had not stayed with my parents for 25 years, but I finally came back to stay with my mum two years ago – I had decided to take a sabbatical after working nonstop for the past 15 years; I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted,” says Aiman.

The Ismail family.

Emily and Emilia Ismail are twin sisters who live with their mother. They are 36 years old. “In our house, there are three generations living together: my mother; my husband and I; my sister and her husband; and our two children,” Emily says. “Since my grandmother’s days, it has been instilled in us to stay together as a family. When she was still alive, almost everyone stayed in her house. At one point there were even four generations staying under one roof.”

Samantha* is 50 and lives with her 75-year-old mother. “It’s part of Asian culture for unmarried children to stay with their parents. I have a hot meal waiting for me when I return home after a long day at work – that is what it means to live with my parents. But if I do not eat what they have prepared, I face some serious repercussions,” she says with a laugh.

“There is also the nostalgia and comfort of home – the feeling that you are going back to familiar spaces and faces. It’s very different from going home to an empty house. I had tried staying by myself, but without my mother and sister around, it got really lonely,” says Emily.

While it sounds like a win-win situation, it’s not all a bed of roses.

“After not staying with my mum for so long, it was difficult to readjust our expectations towards each other. All those years, we had enjoyed each other’s company in small doses – semester holidays, Raya holidays and family vacations. Now we are rediscovering each other, and of course you’ll learn that there are things about each other that you don’t like. Mum is very organised but I’m very messy in an organised way; she takes a long time to get ready while I’m out of the door in five minutes. We are both very opinionated people and it causes friction sometimes, but I do like what I’m discovering about mum and myself – I see where I get certain traits from,” says Aiman.

“As we are staying together, I am the first in line to do things for my mum. This includes collecting her medication and taking her for her medical appointments. My mum does not drive anymore due to her age and relies on me for transport,” says Samantha.

“There will be disagreements – sometimes out of frustration such as when somebody does not take the trash out or forgets to turn off the tap – but these disagreements will usually resolve themselves,” adds Emily.

Into Their Silver Years

Despite their age, seniors continue to contribute to their households in any way they can. However, some may not know their limitations, and as their senses become dulled and they start to experience limited mobility, they will eventually become more dependent on their children. Not all ageing parents can accept this process.

Grace Kok Lay Khim is the manager of Friends of Seniors, a non-profit day care centre for senior citizens. “Humans thrive on social interaction – even more so as we age. We need communication with people to keep active and happy. Even the simple act of doing easy exercises in a group is different from exercising alone at home,” explains Kok.

“When parents reach a certain age, they prefer to stay with their children. However, their adult children may not have time for them. Some seniors have dementia, and when left to their own devices might forget to take their medication, leave the house on their own and not know how to return home, or accidentally fall. This is a constant source of worry for their adult children.

The sibling who lives with the parents typically assumes the caregiver role. Sometimes, the other siblings who do not live with the dependent parents do not fully appreciate, or they choose to disregard, how much help their parents really need, and how much work the caregiver takes on in caring for the ageing parents.

“It gets lonely for the parents who are left at home when their adult children go to work – they have nothing to do except watch TV the whole day to entertain themselves. This inactivity will hasten the deterioration of their minds and quicken the degeneration of their brains. If there is only one surviving parent, the isolation is amplified.

“Putting your ageing parents in a home may not resolve this issue as there are normally no social activities there – the home operators are busy with the cleaning and maintenance of the home and they do not have time to plan social activities,” says Kok.

A warm sign welcomes guests at Friends of Seniors.

Some parents might not have properly planned for their senior years – they might not have saved up enough to live out their retirement years, or might even have forgone their retirement savings for their children’s education and upbringing. These parents need support from their adult children. Living together fixes this problem.
“One day, your parents who cared for you all these years might not be able to care for themselves anymore. The question is: would you care for them the way they did for you the many years when you needed them?” Chin asks.

“My mom will always have her daughters to take care of her. We’ve heard many stories about older folks who get injured at home and do not receive immediate assistance. When my mom slipped and fell a few weeks back, we quickly took her to the doctor to get the necessary medical attention,” says Emily.

A game of Rummikub at Friends of Seniors centre.

Sibling support is crucial in the event old parents become dependent. “The sibling who lives with the parents typically assumes the caregiver role. Sometimes, the other siblings who do not live with the dependent parents do not fully appreciate, or choose to disregard, how much help their parents really need, and how much work the caregiver takes on in caring for the ageing parents. This disproportionate load on one person fosters a sense of unfairness that can lead to resentment,” says Chin.

“The best solution is to correct the issues before they escalate to a point where they are irreconcilable. Good communication is key – a frank and open discussion of the parents’ care and needs should be carried out at a family meeting. The role played by each sibling and their obligations should be established. The family should try planning ahead to iron out everyone’s schedules – this ensures the parents are taken care of while ensuring an equal and fair load on each sibling,” she says.

As we age, living with parents requires a role reversal: no longer are we children that they need to care for; inversely, they need caring instead. It’s fair exchange for bed and board, quickly clearly.

*The subject does not wish to be named.

When she is not writing, Tho Mun Yi moonlights as a Tarot card reader and makes a living helping her clients live more in the present. During her sessions with her clients, she uses Tarot as a guide to gain a higher sense of mindfulness and enlightenment.

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