"You live with your parents?"
As an unmarried woman over 35, that question has nettled my insides like nails on a chalkboard. It’s been my biggest shame trigger over the last few years because it made me feel like I’ve failed to launch in life.
My mom remarried in 2016 and in an effort to help her and her new Beau get off to a good start and be in a position to help others, I offered for them to come stay with me for 9 months until they found their footing. Things were great! We had our first family snowstorm brunch when over 20” of snow fell. We laughed and cooked and dined together through that summer. However, as time passed and their plans changed, my feelings about the situation took a hard left turn. No matter how loving or noble some might have described my intentions, I became totally consumed with what the optics of my life said to others.
‘Why doesn’t she live alone? Can’t she hack providing for herself? Doesn’t she have a good job? What’s wrong with her? She’s not married, doesn’t have any kids AND she lives with her parents?’ All of these negative thoughts, complete with the person’s inevitable eye roll, would rush in on me whenever my parents living with me or me living with my parents, a distinction without an actual difference, became a topic for consideration.
Most of my friends are either married or enjoying their single life and living alone. Why did I feel stuck in this situation where I had no control over what energy greeted me at the end of the day or what noise came from the bedrooms above me? How could my effort to be a supportive daughter turn so sour that I stopped feeling good inviting others to my home?
I have always felt very independent and taken great pride in my almost fearless approach to new things. As a child, I would learn how to do things primarily so that I wouldn’t have to ask for help. I started reading before the age of 4 (thanks to my sister Shellye), I got to stay home from school on the day I qualified for my learner’s permit so I could go to the DMV and take the written test, I got my license less than 6 months later, I started traveling for work before I was even 21 and have since traveled to 42/50 states and 18 countries, some of them on my own. I am a woman who accomplishes almost whatever she decides to do.
Somehow, what started out as a loving effort had made me feel like I had forsaken a large part of my independence and that my very identity was now called into question. The team talked in Part 1 of the Shame Triggers Part I podcast episode about how gremlins don’t survive when exposed to light. (Shame, according to Brené Brown’s audiobook The Power of Vulnerability, is a gremlin.) Yet, recognizing this shame trigger of living with my parents, didn’t make me feel better. Instead, I felt worse. I was ashamed that my parents lived with me. I was ashamed of how others might see that. I was ashamed that I had started to see my parents as an object of frustration rather than truly wonderful people deserving of honor and whom I love. I was ashamed about how I felt about my shame.
It began to affect my relationships. It caused more than a couple of fights with my 3 closest friends, who I felt couldn’t quite understand how I was feeling nor did they empathize to the proper degree; they felt I wasn’t being reasonable and had allowed this situation to become an obsession.
In truth, I was a mess dealing with the shame of my living situation.
One conversation with The Influencer helped me start to shift my mindset. Two things she said stuck with me: 1) How do you know that your parents living with you isn’t a blessing? 2) What we resist, persists. Just let it go, Jen.
I started thinking about the positive impact of my parents living with me for the past couple of years:
I went on 3 trips in December 2017 (my “December To Remember”) and spent 21/30 days on travel with friends. Everything in and around the house stayed safe, packages got accepted, mail was collected, we got free rides to the airport and there was a home cooked meal waiting for us after a 20-hour travel day.
As I tried to heal from my biological Father’s death and subsequent revelations on the pain of our relationship, I was able to go upstairs and cry with my Mom, get answers about things that plagued me and have comforting scriptural words from my stepdad.
They contributed to our household financially, allowing me to take multiple trips without having to break the bank.
In the Power of Vulnerability, Dr. Brene’ Brown shares one of her mantras and it really resonated with me: “Don’t puff up, don’t shrink, stand your sacred ground.” When I started to let go of the feeling that my identity was tied to my living situation, I immediately started to feel better. Instead of being ashamed, I started offering up that my parents and I live together whenever the conversation with new acquaintances moved in that direction. I tried not to say, ‘My parents live with ME’, and simply said, ‘My parents and I live in the same house.’ When I had dinner parties, I happily invited my parents to join in the festivities and the evenings seemed to go more smoothly as a result of our coordinated efforts.
Two other nuggets from Dr. Brown’s audio book that hit me hard were: 1) We either own our story or we stand outside of it and hustle for our worthiness. 2) Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we actually are.
How long was I going to let other people’s perceived attitudes about what life at my age is “supposed to look like” keep me from enjoying the good things I have? Whose approval about my living situation was I hustling to achieve? When would I be enough?
It was amazing how just a slight change in my thinking impacted how I felt. Of course, just as I started getting more comfortable with this way of thinking, my parents found what they were looking for and made plans to move out!
Looking back over the last few years, I wish I had come to these conclusions much sooner. I have had to apologize to those 3 friends and my parents on more than one occasion. I AM happier having my house to myself again, but more for the opportunity to redecorate and spread out than because of what anyone might think of my living situation or by extension what they think of me.
The realization of how my attitude was impeding my happiness is helping me to look at other areas of my life where I have typically shrunk back because of feelings of shame. I can’t wait to see where else I can shred these feelings and release the pain holding me back from the wholehearted living I have longed for.
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