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half enough

Which comes first - moving out or growing up?

Paying rent is a costly way to learn to grow up. I’m left with very little disposable income and two credit cards (that I’m still paying off) screaming to be swiped.

In Japan, most children live with their parents until they get married. I can only think of two reasons why: 1) there isn’t enough space in Japan for everyone over 18 to live on their own, let alone afford it, and 2) it is a longstanding tradition for Japanese families to live together and for children to take care of their parents when they are older. My aunt Teruko in Japan lived with my grandmother until she was 36, when she got married. Now she lives one train stop from my grandmother. Most of my Japanese friends in Japan in their mid-20s and working full time live with their parents. It is not considered strange or irresponsible. It is absolutely common and considered quite normal.

Things, of course, are different in the U.S. Most children, like me, leave their parents’ home at 18 to attend college and usually don’t go back except on summer vacations and holidays, or when, like me, are financially strapped. After college, I interned for a year with a non-profit organization that provided housing. After my internship, I had nearly depleted my funds so had only my mother’s place to live. However much I didn’t want to move back, I had little choice. It had been five years since I lived with my mother. In those five years, I had accumulated so much stuff that it could decorate a large one-bedroom apartment. Moving back home, I felt defeated. My spirit of independence was crushed by the realities of being a financially irresponsible 23 year-old. Quite the opposite of my friends and family in Japan.

Though the living situation with my mother was only for four months, there were times when it felt longer. My mother lives in a Japanese-style one-bedroom apartment; every inch of space is covered with an assortment of knickknacks, magazines, and canned food items. There is very little walking room. The first month was the most stressful. Living at my mother’s felt like a temporary stay at a motel. I complained that I didn’t have any privacy, that it wasn’t a healthy environment for me. My common sense was quite selfish.

The next three months were better. My mom and I had conversations over tea about life in general. I shared with her my frustrations with adulthood as she welcomed me into the world of adulthood. Both of us were surprised that we were even having such eye-to-eye conversations. Through our conversations, I started to see my mother’s selflessness in raising me and providing everything I needed so that I could experience many things she couldn’t. My mom told me that I was slowly becoming a circle. This was a good thing. Becoming a circle meant that I was becoming more open-minded and less judgmental of people, including myself. As I began to feel appreciation for my mother, my attitude at home with her changed. I was growing up.

Growing up didn’t halt any desire of moving out, however. I was determined to find a place to live on my own and more than willing to pay for it. My mother didn’t encourage it but she didn’t stop me from doing what I wanted. Wanting to find my own place to live, this time, came from what I felt was a more responsible outlook after four months of temporarily living with my mother. My attitude changed, from griping about my unfavorable living situation with my mother to learning how to appreciate it and move on. I saved money, budgeted my finances, did thorough research in finding a suitable and affordable place, and actually found it after four precious months.

When my roommate gave me the keys to her apartment, I felt both liberation from living at home and an added responsibility in my journey through adulthood. When I gave my roommate the first and last month’s rent, which was the most painful part, the college lifestyle I was so accustomed to was finally over.

Living with my mom for four months after five years of being away was like taking an accelerated life lesson course in learning how to be a grown up. Some of the lessons I learned are: 1) Complaining will get you nowhere, 2) Appreciate your parents, 3) Budget your finances, 4) Bite your tongue before you say anything you might regret, and 5) Be a circle.

I think growing up should come first before moving out. That way, you save money and learn to appreciate your parents. I’m always learning the hard way.

© 2006 Victoria Kraus

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"Half Enough" is Victoria's first regular column series. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Discover Nikkei.