Something changes between the aged of 18 and 20. After nearly two decades of living with guardians, one is imbued with a desire for freedom and independent decision making. I have been privy to this change, as have most of my peers.
In the West, it is considered a rite of passage—of the younger generation moving out to forge independent paths early on in adulthood. However, in Indian culture, coddling youth till they are married off (and sometime even after it), is the norm. Moving out of homes, for most young people, constitutes a big conversation. And very often these conversations don’t go well.
There is no doubt about the merits of living with parents, especially in one’s developing years. According to a 2023-study published in Front Public Health, living with parents in younger ages is crucial to avoiding “higher risk of internet addiction, depression, anxiety, loneliness, suicidal ideation, drug abuse, wasting, stunting, and sickness.” (Study: “Accompanying your children: Living without parents at different stages of pre-adulthood and individual physical and mental health in adulthood”).
But what about when living at home sometimes comes at the cost mental health for youth with less-than-ideal family equations.
For Yashika, a 22-year-old publishing professional from New Delhi, who shares a strained relationship with her family, staying at home is a passive decision. Left to her own devices, she would change it. “I don't have the income or the mental bandwidth right now to separate from my family.” So, while she intensely craves the freedom to make her decisions, she feels stuck in an environment where it feels like the decisions are made for her.
It isn’t a stretch to say that constrained freedom for an adult, feels akin to being caged at an age where one is meant to fly.
There are some, who are compelled to stay back at home due to certain constraints. Take, for instance, Rahil Desai, a 25-year-old from Ahmedabad, for whom parents are a support system as he struggles with his mental health and profession. “Given the state of my mental health right now, and the struggles at my workplace, it’s not appropriate for me to move out. The only reason I can survive the day is because I get to see my parents at the end,” he says.
For others like Supriya, a 25-year-old from Bengaluru working in operations, who moved back as a breadwinner after the sudden demise of her father, living at home is not a choice, but a necessity.
And sometimes it’s just the more practical thing to do, like for Aditi Sharma, a 25-year-old marketing professional. “I had a lot of opportunities to move to different cities for work, but since I work remotely and like to travel fifteen out of the thirty days of the month, it makes sense to live at home.”
So, when these young Indians continue to live at home, how do they fare?
Those like Desai experience smooth sailing. “I have no restrictions at all. It has never occurred to me that I don’t have the freedom to do anything I want,” he adds.
But that’s not a universal experience. More often than not, several adults living in one home means friction. Like in Supriya’s case, who tells me that she misses having a personal space or the freedom to have her partner stay the night.
As for what’s next for young Indians with regards to their quest for greater freedom, the answer varies. For some like Yashika, who is extremely unhappy with her living situation, moving out is a priority — but she knows it’ll only happen sometime in the future. “I can’t just pack my bags and leave because at the heart of it all, I know that my family wants the best for me. They just don't realise that what they think is the best for me is not the best for me.” To make things more complicated, the financial privileges afforded to her through her family are also a factor in her desire to stick around and sustain a lifestyle she has gotten used to.
Sharma, on the other hand, does not seem to have moving-out and living independently in the cards as of yet. “There are only a few years that I'm going to live with my parents properly, so I choose to live with them. Maybe I’ll move to a different city with my family so I have the freedom to go to places late at night, which I don’t have currently.”
As the joint family structure is synonymous in Indian culture — and comes with its undeniable pros — living away from one’s family is inevitably a heavy conversation. Most of us grow up surrounded by our grandparents or joint family for that same reason. But is there something to living independently that the older generations have collectively missed out on? Is there a fundamental freedom that is necessary to evolving as an adult that we seem to be neglecting? Only time will tell.
Delhi-based Nona Uppal writes on love and relationships. She is on Instagram @nonauppal