What’s Wrong With Visiting Our Parents?

Derek Everything Else 40 Comments

About a month ago, I was in a car that was driving down the FDR Driver in Manhattan when we suddenly hit some of that famous NYC traffic. As a result, and for quite a long time, there was nothing else for me to do except stare out the windows – at the buildings, at the bridges, at the people, at the East River….and at this sign:

(sorry for the poor quality, it was taken with my cell phone)


While at first this may appear to be just another billboard for a storage company, I must say that as soon as I read the words, I was stunned. Immediately, I pointed the sign out to my friend who was driving the car, but after glancing at the sign he just shrugged his shoulders. And not one person in any of the cars around us seemed to give this sign anything more than a passing glance either. Given the fact that this massive billboard was located in plain view of at least 1,000,000 people per day, I reached the conclusion that it’s message was deemed acceptable by the general population.

19 PEOPLE UNDER ONE ROOF

In many of the countries I’ve been to – both undeveloped and developed – the focus on family is so strong that it is quite common to find multiple generations living together in the same house. I have friends in Europe, Asia and Central America who still eat every single meal with their parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins, even though they are now well over 30-years old. Many of these same friends also still live with their parents or in the same cluster of houses where their entire extended family dwells.

I will also never forget the family I met on the Indonesian island of Sumatra who invited me to spend a few days in their three-room home, which turned out to be inhabited by 19 family members (and four dogs)! And I was amazed, as far from the usual squabbles and frustrations often associated with large family gatherings back home, this turned out to be one of the most loving, welcoming households I have ever witnessed.

To these people, family plays a much larger role in their lives than it does for many people in the US or a handful of other first-world countries. When my friends in Thailand, Costa Rica, Italy and India think of family, they think of living together, eating together, socializing together and sometimes even working together.

And I’m not just talking about families who live together out of necessity, due to extreme poverty or a lack of resources. The families that I’ve met, across all levels of wealth, actually want to live together and spend so much time together!

From what I’ve seen, this isn’t such a bad idea at all. The resulting closeness appears to manifest itself into an environment of increased trust, support, emotional bonding and strengthened family morals. I’ve also clearly noticed a greater degree of genuine happiness among such tight-knit extended families, regardless of their living conditions.

OH NO! NOT ANOTHER FAMILY OUTING!

That whole idea that families are burdens and that we should move as far away from them as possible as soon as we’re able to survive on our own, is something that I no longer agree with.

Of course, I’m not saying we should all pack our bags and move back in with our parents, inviting our grandparents, cousins, Uncle Harvey and Aunt Marilyn to join us along the way, just so that we can all sit in a circle on the living room floor every day to eat our noon-time meal.

But, on the other hand, do we really need to have the idea that we should visit our parents less frequently than many of us already do, implanted deep into our minds? I do know that the billboard was intended as a joke (don’t worry, I do have a sense of humor!), but even jokes can have an affect on society. And to answer your question, yes, I did just see the film Inception.

When we think of our parents or our families, we should be excited about any opportunity to eat a meal together, to converse with each other and share our lives. Unfortunately, distance and time often begin to chip away at whatever level of closeness we began with. As a result, when we finally do have the entire family sitting around the dining room table for the first time in two years, it becomes quite difficult to re-connect. So we end up arguing over why we never told our parents about being laid off from work or even worse, arguing about who’s going to drive to the supermarket to buy the cheesecake that Cousin Laura forgot to bring.

That’s why the above billboard didn’t sit well with me. I would have much rather seen its opposite – “Storing With Your Parents Means Having To Visit, SO STORE IT WITH YOUR PARENTS!” – displayed for every New Yorker to see. Granted, this would put their storage facility out of business quite quickly, but think of all the close-knit families it would be responsible for creating!

Before I end this post and more importantly, before my mom calls to ask me whether or not I think my own family is close-knit, let me quickly state that wonderfully close families are of course possible without having everyone live under the same roof! In fact, I do have a wonderfully close family myself (among certain members at least) and despite spending most of my time overseas, I somehow end up seeing my family as often or even more often than many people I know who live permanently in the US.

After all, I do proudly store my two boxes of worldly possessions in a closet at my mom’s house, so take that “Manhattan Mini-Storage”!

(Photo of Family: Hector Garcia)


How often do you see your family? Has distance or time apart had an effect on how close you are with them?

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Comments 40

  1. John Bardos - JetSetCitizen

    Hi Earl,

    It is interesting how different cultural values are around the world.

    I have heard many Western foreigners deride Japanese for living with their parents well into their adulthood and sometimes their whole lives. It is quite normal for the oldest son to keep living with his wife and kids in his parents house. Increasingly, unmarried women live permanently at home into their forties and beyond.

    As westerners we often see this as backwards or a sign of immaturity because of our need for independence. I suspect this idea was sold to us as part of the ‘American dream.’ More households = more consumption.

    I had the same ideas when I was in my twenties as well. I couldn’t wait to move out of my parent’s house. Now that I am older, my old ideas seem a little childish. I wish I had a better understanding about how expensive and difficult it was to live on my own in advance. I don’t have problems visiting and staying with family for extended periods of time now.

    There are many benefits to living with parents permanently that westerners may not see at first.
    1. It is much cheaper. 100% of your money can be spent on yourself. That is a big factor in why Japanese travel abroad so much more than Americans.
    2. Families are much closer.
    3. Grandparents get more involved in raising children.
    4. It is much cheaper and more humane to take care of your own parents as they age instead of sending them off to a nursing home.
    5. It is far more environmentally friendly. (Less furniture, less land use, less heating and electricity, etc.)

    Our concept of living space has expanded so much in the last century. We sometimes forget how spoiled we are and that is precisely the problem with our financial and environmental woes. I read once that Michelangelo used to sleep in the same bed with several of his assistants. Effective utilization of small spaces was normal and necessary to survive.

    We have been trained to over-consume and we assume the different beliefs of other cultures are weaker than our own. Maybe it is us that have it wrong?
    .-= John Bardos – JetSetCitizen´s last blog ..CouchSurfingorg is What Social Media is All About =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey John – Thanks so much for you input and I think you’re absolutely right about the benefits of living with one’s family. The more I think about it, the more troubling it seems that we do allow our desire for independence to take us away from our families, which consist of the exact people that we should want to remain close to at all costs.

      Just because the Japanese might live at home doesn’t mean that they are immature or lack independence. They simply live at home and enjoy the benefits as a result. Perhaps it is our definition of independence that needs to change so that we don’t feel the need to pursue such a lifestyle at the expense of a strong, close family. I’m not saying we should all live at home, but especially in our early twenties, we shouldn’t feel that pressure to move out as soon as possible.

      And I never really considered the saving money aspect of living together as a reason why so many Japanese travel abroad, but it does make sense. Imagine all of the people, especially North Americans, that would do some more traveling if they didn’t feel required to live on their own and therefore spend most of their earnings on basic living expenses!

  2. Moon Hussain

    Earl, damnit, you’re hitting on something that’s been bothering me a lot in the last few years.

    I was brought up in the States as well as in Pakistan and I am constantly struggling with this issue. Now I live even farther away from my parents than ever and I know they don’t like it (or they wished I was living closer to them, or better yet, at home!)

    I realize I need my personal space. I wish I could live close to them and visit them once or twice a week and everything would be fine. But, they are Pakistani and Muslims and hence, from an “American viewpoint”, don’t understand what it means to give space to your kids.

    My mom and niece are leaving tomorrow and I know I’ll be pretty upset for a few days and then this awful feeling will leave me ever so slowly, only to repeat the cycle. I wish I could find the perfect balance.

    Anyway, I realize what you’re trying to say here and I understand it especially since I’ve lived in Pakistan and here. My parents never understand this 😉
    .-= Moon Hussain´s last blog ..Tools of the Trade- Do You Choose to Spend or Not =-.

    1. Earl

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Moon. It’s interesting to read your perspective as you’re someone who wants their family to embrace a little more of the American view of family. I would imagine that coming from Pakistan to the US, and the clash of cultures that presents, would create some difficult situations for both parents and children. But it seems that you are trying to work through it all and even though you’ve moved across the country, it’s great to know that your family is out there visiting you! Perhaps now that you’re farther away from home your parents will understand the need to allow you a little more room to breathe!

  3. Andi

    I loved this post! You touched upon some great points that I think A LOT of Americans need to read. While I do think it’s important for people to become independent from their families and to explore the world, I also think it’s important for people to still keep the bonds with their family and to spend as much time with them as possible.
    .-= Andi´s last blog ..My Beloved Chinese Chestnut =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Andi – You said it perfectly…we can be independent AND remain close to our families at the same time. I just think that in the US (and other places of course), an extra effort many be needed to keep that bond strong as our lives tend to become controlled by forces and decisions that push us apart from our families!

  4. Jenna

    You are so right with this. Americans often think we have close families, but when we see how families are in other countries, we realize Americans are just not as close. It’s a cultural thing, and we don’t need to take it personally or get defensive (as I often do) because there are other cultural differences that we can be proud of. My husband is Brazilian and my stepmother is Indonesian, and both are super close with their families. For us, the priority for travel is simply hanging out with my husband’s family every year. Imposing on family simply doesn’t exist in Brazil.
    The good news is that the U.S. is supposedly going through a time of getting back to family. This is good because as we go through life, we realize that all we really have is first ourselves and second our family. Also, as a parent, I have learned how deep and unconditional the love of a parent toward a child is, and if we Americans can get closer to our parents, we will be giving our parents a wonderful gift.
    .-= Jenna´s last blog ..A Travel Photo Treat- North Bali =-.

    1. Earl

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Jenna!

      I would love to see the US return to a greater focus on family. Even here in Mexico, my friends just pop in and out of their parents homes all the time, randomly showing up for meals, bringing friends without an invitation and even spending the night just because they suddenly feel like it. One of my friends has her husband’s family (9 people) visiting for six weeks and not once have I heard a complaint from her even though they are all staying in my friend’s small apartment!

      You’re definitely lucky to have received such a multi-cultural perspective on the important of family. And I’m sure your time spent in Brazil each year must be absolutely wonderful!

      1. Jenna

        I can definitely relate to the story of your friend receiving her family for 6 wks w/out a complaint. My husband’s family come from Brazil and stay for up to 2 months. They don’t ask because they don’t need to– but in American culture, this is odd and I have struggled with it a bit. On the flip side, we are staying with them this summer for 2 months. They also will drop everything to help a family member anytime.
        .-= Jenna´s last blog ..A Travel Photo Treat- North Bali =-.

        1. Earl

          2 months is a long time but it’s wonderful that your husband’s family doesn’t have to ask to stay and that you don’t have to ask when you head to Brazil! Now that’s the benefit of having a close family!

  5. Osborne

    HAHAHA – I am currently at my parents place. I have always had the motto “Live light, travel lighter” even when I was a kid I had this view. My parents supported it and are more than happy to store some of my stuff so that I can achieve that. I visit home at the minimum once a year, but I talk to them much more often. And I completely agree, it is much more come in first world cultures to move away from home as soon as you can than it is other places.

    Ozzy

    1. Earl

      That is funny Osborne, but you didn’t have to go and take this post literally!! Seriously though, you have the right idea. Just making sure that you talk to your parents often is a way to maintain the bond even if you end up living a lifestyle that involves a great deal of travel. Enjoy your time at home!

  6. Dina

    Hi Earl, really nice and good hearted post 🙂
    I don’t know what’s wrong with visiting parents. I haven’t been living under my parents’ roof since I was 18, when I moved 12 hours driving away to my university. It got worst after that. Japan, Canada, and then all over the place. So, obviously I don’t live with them. I think in the imaginary world that we live in the same city, I probably will choose to have my own place, as long as they are healthy and capable.

    Even though it’s my preference to build household outside my parents’, it’s my pleasure to visit them!!! Now that I’m so far away from home, I just miss them a lot. Every time I go back to my country, I choose to stay in their home. Catching up with years we missed, going out together, even helping with the house chores. Merely visiting won’t be enough, I need to stay in their home for weeks at least. So I don’t get why the board implying that visiting is already too much burden.

    In the imaginary world that we live in the same city, I will visit them a lot. Shopping together, going to hair salon together, or just chatting together at home.

    Ah, I miss my parents and sister…
    .-= Dina´s last blog ..An awe-inspiring day trip from Barcelona- the Monastery of Montserrat =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Dina – What I loved about your comment is that you’ve shown such a great example of remaining close with your family even though you’ve literally been living in places at the complete opposite ends of the world. I’m happy to hear that when you do return home, you are eager to spend time together and stay for an extended period of time. Sounds like you have quite a close relationship and I’m sure no matter how much traveling you do, that bond won’t break!

      And hopefully you called home after reading this post!!

  7. Audrey

    I read this at a time when a lot of similar thoughts were going through my head about family. Although I have lived much of my life abroad and my parent’s and grandparent’s generations did the same, I would say that my family is still pretty close. We don’t see each other physically often, but we are in touch with one another and do enjoy the time we spend together when we are on the same continent. I am in touch with my mother and father on email probably every other day – I value that I can have that type of relationship with them that is adult and healthy.

    When we visited my mother’s relatives in Argentina, it was amazing how close the families were – they all lived in a similar area and would get together almost every weekend for a big family barbecue. I’m not saying that everything is perfect in families even when you are close and see each other often, but I do find that the American approach to families sometimes being compared to the plague sad. We’ve lost something there.
    .-= Audrey´s last blog ..Nibbles That Give Me the Shivers or- Sht I Wouldn’t Eat Again =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Audrey – It sounds like your family situation is very similar to mine, considering that neither of us have spent much time in the US. I too am in contact often, at least via email, and without that contact I’m sure my family situation would be quite different, especially since it has become easier and easier to be away for longer periods of time the more I travel (as perhaps you have discovered yourself).

      At least you had a chance to experience those large family gatherings while in Argentina. That’s the way it should be and I wish there was more of that in the US. I don’t think I ever had a large family barbecue growing up except for a graduation party or some other major event. At the same time, you’re of course correct in stating that a close-knit family doesn’t necessarily equal perfection!

  8. Nate

    I definitely can echo a lot of the statements here. Whether we like to think it or not, there’s just a much different culture in the United States…specifically, a culture focused on individualism. You know, the whole pull yourself up by the bootstraps, go out there and do it on your own mentality that has a sort of allure and, in a sense, romanticism tied to it in the US. We idolize the loner, the rebel, the bussinessman who started from nothing and made it ‘on his own,’ the entrepreneur, etc.

    I don’t want to knock individualism, but more and more I’m beginning to explore this strong sense of a separate self we create.

    As far as my family goes, I try to visit them as often as possible, although I admit that I could definitely be closer to them with more effort. I think there’s a certain amount of wisdom gained from living in a close-knit family, especially as it relates to love, acceptance and compassion (not to say it’s impossible for this to be found if you’re not in a close knit family b/c you can).
    .-= Nate´s last blog ..Yoga Poses- Warrior 1 Virabhadrasana 1 =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Nate – That is exactly the mentality that we are taught to have from our earlier years. And the thing is, there are of course some benefits of having that kind of attitude towards life. After all, I wouldn’t have started traveling if I felt the need to live close to my family! I guess that the entire idea of following one’s dreams in life often requires us to separate ourselves (at least in physical location) from our parents, siblings and other family members. I also agree that a close-knit family is by no means a requirement for learning the value of such things as love, trust and support. It would just be nice if more families could offer that foundation to their children from the beginning so that we wouldn’t have to search for that wisdom later on in life. And that’s the kind of foundation that I’ve noticed in so many other countries around the world.

      And by the way, I appreciate your yoga pose descriptions on your site, especially as I’m trying to practice yoga once again!

  9. Maria Staal

    Great post, as always! I completely agree with you about the closeness of family.
    After have travelled a lot in the past, I am now very happy to live close to my family again. As a matter of fact, I still have stuff stored in my parents attic, even though I live only five minutes away from them.

    1. Earl

      Thanks Maria!

      Five minutes from your parents? That is close and I’ll assume that you visit them often as a result! I’m sure they love having you around as well 🙂

  10. Kat

    Interesting post. I too find that billboard kind of horrendous. One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Italy was the lack of that accepted resentment of family that we seem to have in America in general. When people’s families would come to visit them at college, I expected that usual annoyance and sense of hassle, but people were genuinely excited about it. A lot of people have told me that they wouldn’t move far away from home because their mothers would see it as a kind of betrayal.
    It’s sort of strange — maybe in the US we don’t like the idea of being tied into family obligations, not being about to do what you want freely because of familial pressure or influence, so we put up this sort of wall, which over time turns into a kind of bitterness. I don’t know.

    1. Earl

      Hey Kat – That’s an excellent comment! I actually have a very close Italian friend who also wouldn’t think of ever moving far away from her parents. In fact, she spends time every day with her parents and normally the preferred weekend activity is a family outing (and her friends tag along as well). I’ve also noticed that same lack of annoyance among children (of any age) and their parents’ that you mention. I honestly don’t think children in many countries go through that stage of embarrassment that many of us in the US go through, where we don’t want to be seen with or appearing too close to our parents!

  11. vewe

    Earl, I really really love this post and I have to agree with you on that billboard, it’s a big NO for me.

    I have noticed this pattern in the US, where kids are ‘supposed’ to leave home when they turn 18 or mostly will be labeled as loser.
    Of course I understand it was meant to have them to be more independent, but why they have to leave home/family to be considered as being independent? It’s part of American culture and when it comes to culture, it’s really hard to say.

    Nothing’s wrong with our parents, from all the people around the world, it’s always our parents who’ll be supporting us all the way…all the time. No matter what happen to us, they’ll always be there for us more than anybody else.

    1. Earl

      Hey Vewe – I’m glad you were able to leave a comment on this post!

      I think the whole concept of ‘independence’ seems to play the biggest role in driving us away from our families. We learn from an early age that we need to do whatever it takes to get ahead in life, and usually our options are limited if we always stay close (geographically) to our parents. But like you said, our parents are often the ones who offer the most support, and that is an excellent reason to ensure that we remain as close to them as possible!

  12. Lilliane

    Hoorah for this post, Earl. Cheers to your parents/mom for bringing you up to value parents. Family is the greatest source of courage and inspiration! It’s why while I love to travel the world, Manila (where my family is) will always be home.

    I’m glad that I belong to a culture that has close family-ties. I grew up playing with siblings & cousins at our grandparent’s house on weekends. We have family outings during summers and various excuses and celebration to get together. These were some of our fondest childhood memories. Now grown up, many have moved to another countries but everyone look forward to family visiting or occasions like weddings or births to get together.
    .-= Lilliane´s last blog ..Bienvenido Zamboanga =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Lilliane – Just reading your comment and thinking about all of your family gatherings put a smile on my face! The important thing is that even though you and your cousins and siblings have become adults, you still look forward to spending time together whenever possible. And that’s definitely the sign of a strong family.

  13. Marc

    There is nothing wrong with visiting parents. I would expand this word to descendents. Someone said once when you want to go somewere you need to know were to you come from.
    Particulary parents can give you a better understanding of yourself. Especially they can tell you how you behaved in the embossing child phases of your lives, since mostly we can not remember. Parents can be an catalysator to personal development.
    The flip side of the coin is that most descendents are not amused by unconventional living. They want to tell their neigbours what (in there sense) a great sibling they have.

    Marc

    1. Earl

      Hey Marc – Parents are important for personal development and the closer we remain to our parents, the better the chances that we’ll live our lives according to their (hopefully) strong morals instead of wandering off down a dangerous path in life.

      And you are very right that parents may find it a little more difficult to brag about their children if the children have chosen to live a more unconventional lifestyle! Thanks for the comment Marc.

  14. Mom

    As the mother..I am thrilled to give up closet space to store your stuff so that you may live your dreams. At least I know you will have to come and visit !!! You don’t need to live near someone to feel the closeness. No matter how often you travel or how long you are away… home will always be where the heart is…

    1. Earl

      Hey Mom (that sounds strange!) – I knew this post would finally get you to comment! Thank you for always keeping your door open whenever I’m back in the country and for all of your support for my wandering ways. You know how much I appreciate it!

  15. Mike

    Maybe it is also the emphasis on groups in Asia as opposed to the individual in most western countries. In Bali not only do families live together, but they are also belong to a village. Sure some people move away, but they still go back often for ceremonies etc.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mike – That’s a good point as western societies do focus very much on the individual. That sense of community just isn’t as strong and without that foundation, we just pick up and leave our families behind without much thought, eager to pursue our own goals and such things as our own careers.

      I hope all is well out in Bali!

  16. Bessie

    I’ve pondered this less involvement with family in the US than other countries, and from what I’ve seen, it’s what you say, that it’s not low-income or necessity that is bringing folks together. It’s cultural, and it’s all about habits.

    When I was home most recently, we reminisced about going to our great-grandmother’s small house where you could easily be crushed by the number of extended relatives in that house. Every Sunday, my Croatian relatives would come together to eat spaghetti, kids sitting on laps or any spot on the floor they could find. It continued down to squeezing together at my grandparents house as well, 3 or 4 grandkids sleeping per couch.

    With my family at least, as a relative passed, so did much of the coming together. And without the habits being formed early on, it continues less and less. Other factors: family spreading out, people keeping much busier now, less guilt about not going home, parents divorcing. Whatever it is, I admire families I see, especially in other countries, who spend loads of time together.
    .-= Bessie´s last blog ..Photo Journal- Transformers 3 Filming in Chicago =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Bessie – That’s exactly it, there are so many more factors involved in the US, many of which force us to think of family as less important than in many countries. Parents divorcing is a huge factor as the earlier a family splits up, the harder it is to keep everyone close or to even want to keep everyone close. And the difference is that people in other countries learn from the start that nothing is more important than family and therefore never even consider making a decision that would disrupt the closeness.

      The family gatherings of your youth must have been a great time! Those are the kinds of Sundays that most of us are missing these days!

  17. Pingback: Tweets that mention What’s Wrong With Visiting Our Parents? | Wandering Earl -- Topsy.com

    1. Earl

      That’s funny Margo! I’m happy that someone else noticed these billboards and go figure, it happened to be you, who I spent an hour talking with at the travel bloggers party!!

  18. Mark Lawrence

    Earl, I think it’s awesome you have a great relationship with your family as you wander across this Earth. While I prepare for my upcoming journey I have been seeing many family members that live in different cities in the US.

    I struggle with the fact that I will miss many of them as I travel, but I am excited for the journey ahead and it will be even more meaningful when I see them in person again. I recently spent a week on my uncle’s farm in Ohio with my brother. It was simply amazing.

    I agree with you that too many people discount their family members as a burden. This is not how it should be, but unfortunately in the US we have moved away from family which is detrimental. I disagree with that billboard. I love my family. It’s unfortunate that this storage company billboard represents a piece of our culture in America. As for the possessions stored at mom’s house? I will be proudly storing possessions there also ha!
    .-= Mark Lawrence´s last blog ..Success Needs No Excuse! =-.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mark – We sure have moved away from the idea of a strong family in this country. When I’m back in the US, it often seems like some of my friends would rather jam a screwdriver into their knee than spend time with their family. I’m glad you don’t feel that way and that you’re also taking advantage of the mom’s closet storage option!

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