After moving out for college, a young graduate feels like she has regressed upon returning to her childhood home for the next phase of her life. In this piece, she shares the constraints that hinder her from moving out of her parents’ nest, even as a financially independent working adult in Singapore.
“Welcome to adulthood, I hope you like ibuprofen” was the description of a playlist that I created at three in the morning. It was filled with songs about sleepless nights, exhaustion, and pain. A year after graduating from college, I am earning a decent salary and spending my days rather productively. But I’m exhausted all the time and I cannot fall asleep without the occasional melatonin pill or a shot of whiskey. Is this what it feels like to be an adult? The worst part is that this self-loathing, existential playlist was born as I sat in my parents’ apartment. Yes, I am still living with my parents. Yikes. While I may be an employed graduate earning my own keep, working hard at the desk in my childhood home made me feel like a kid again.
In Singapore, we celebrate graduating from college, clinching our first job, and gaining financial independence as milestones and significant steps into adulthood. However, a vast majority of Singaporeans continue to live with their parents after college and employment. In fact, most parents expect their children to do so until marriage. Not all young adults want to move out but for those who do, many factors stand in the way. Financial constraints are at the top of the list as many Singaporean college graduates contribute a portion of their salary to their parents. This allowance may be substantial, especially if their parents have retired or paid for their college debt. So even without parental objection, it would be difficult to afford rent. It certainly doesn’t help that moving out before marriage is often frowned upon, with outsiders assuming that there is friction within the family unit or perceiving children who move out as ungrateful and unfilial.
I once told my mom, as casually as I could muster, that I was considering renting a place of my own. It did not go well. She broke down in tears, claiming that she was “losing her daughter even before she got married”. She sobbed about how she felt like a failure because I didn’t enjoy living with her. I have a really good relationship with both my parents, so I explained that it was nothing personal and that I merely wanted to feel independent. She refused to listen to another word for the rest of the night. I eventually relented and promised that I wouldn’t move out.
For me, being able to live alone is the greatest signifier of adulthood since I have been financially independent upon leaving high school. At the start of my freshman year, I moved into a college dorm. I also had the privilege of studying and working abroad during my college summers. I enjoyed living independently, from getting my groceries and cooking my meals to paying my bills and doing my laundry. Sure, completing chores alone might be a pain sometimes but taking care of myself made me feel like a functional human being. I still contribute my share of household chores back at home but somehow, that’s not quite the same. Life after college felt like an entire step backward when I had to go back to staying in my parents’ apartment and sharing a room with my sibling. Enjoying a brief taste of freedom only strengthened my desire to move into a place I can call my own, one where I am only accountable to myself.
While living with my parents staves off the pressures of the real world, I had always envisioned having more autonomy at this stage. Now I realize that adulthood in Singapore is eerily like adolescence, except with greater stress and more responsibilities. Instead of going to school, I go to work; instead of receiving pocket money, I give my parents an allowance. Every other aspect of my life has remained almost the same even after becoming a working adult and living in my childhood home is a daily reminder of this truth.
I sighed as I looked through the songs in my playlist. One step forward and two steps back; I had moved out during college only to come right back to living with my parents as an adult. Gathering the courage to move out of my parents’ apartment is the step I need to take to stop feeling like I’m only going backward. For now, I’ll work towards having a place I can call my own, one where I will be able to have friends over for weekend house parties and to wallow in self-pity and pain as we go through adulthood together.
Feature image by Sherryl Cheong, based on illustrations by Sanny Van Loon and Alexis Adaos
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