Should you really be wearing shoes on the bed? Photographer: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg
Should you really be wearing shoes on the bed? Photographer: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg

As my readers know, I graduated from my MBA program straight into my parents’ spare bedroom, which is where I lived for the next three years as I tried to figure out what the heck I was going to do for the rest of my life. This did not do wonders for my self-esteem. And yet, believe it or not, I look back on the experience with fondness.

Lost Generations

We’ve been reading a lot of stories lately about millennials who feel stuck in their parents’ basement. To those of you who find yourself in that position, I’m not arguing that you’re lucky to be underemployed and unable to afford your own place. I am arguing that you should make the most of the time you spend at home with your parents, because this is the last time you’re going to get to spend this much time with the people who raised you.

My dad lives in Boston now, and I’ve moved to Washington. Although we talk on the phone, I only get to see him once or twice a year. I miss watching the Sunday news shows with him or going for a drive around New York City and having him tell me about the places that we’re seeing. I wish I’d done even more of it when I was living at home -- and I wish that I’d paid more attention to how special it was that I got to do it.

So for those of you who are living at home, here’s a list of a few things you should do to make the most of these last moments you have with your parents. To be sure, I’m assuming that you, like me, are lucky enough to have great parents with whom you get along. If you don’t … well, I’m sorry. But most of us basically like our families, because that’s heredity for you. If that describes you, here’s how to make the most of your time back in the familial manse.

  1. Act like an adult. The great thing about living at home is that you probably get along with your parents better than potential roommates. The downside is that you may be tempted to revert to your 15-year-old self. And your parents may be tempted to treat you that way. I’m not going to tell you to forcibly prevent your mother from doing your laundry, but seriously: You’re an adult. Do the dishes without being asked. Help with dinner. Buy groceries. Volunteer to clean the gutters. And don’t let your parents set childish limits on you. “No overnight guests” is a perfectly reasonable request; so is asking you to let them know if you’re going to be late, so they won’t be worried that you’re in a ditch somewhere. “Be home every night at 10 p.m.” is not a reasonable request, nor is telling you who you can date. You should be contributing to the household like an adult, and they should be treating you like one.
  2. Do the things that are special to you and your parents. Participate in their hobbies. Go shopping. Go for a hike. No, I’m not saying that you should give up your social life to hang out with Mom and Dad (who probably have their own social life). But -- trust me on this -- when you are middle-aged, there are things you are going to miss when your parents are far away. Make time to do them now.
  3. Learn to make your favorite childhood dishes. My mother is the pie baker in my family. As a result, I almost never make pie crust -- which means I’m nowhere near as good at doing it as I’d like to be. While you’re home, this is a great time to actually learn to make all the stuff that you’re going to wish you could make when they retire to Boca.
  4. Find out about your family history. While you’re revisiting the highlights of your childhood, hit the highlights of theirs as well. Even if you heard a lot of family stories as a child, you’ll have a different perspective on them as an adult. Ask questions. Get the bigger picture. If your parents got hit by a bus tomorrow, what would you want to know about your ancestral lore? Find out now.
  5. Save money. Even if you’re not making much, your expenses are probably a lot lower than they’re going to be when you’re moving out. Pile up money for an apartment deposit, a downpayment, or enough to buy a car in cash. This may shorten the time you spend at home -- or give you a running start when you leave.

To contact the author of this article: Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net.