Married, with parents

So, OK

I moved out of home in 1997. I was 19 and, as coincidence would have it, Jebediah’s ‘Leaving Home’ was dominating the charts.

I wasn’t really getting along with mum. Nothing serious, but leaving would save some tears and tantrums – namely mine.

I remember telling her I was moving in with my best mate Sash (who is now a professional taxidermist and ballroom dancer, say what now?) and some stoner guy call Jeff who loved to use the oven, not to cook a great dinner of fish fingers, but to dry out his pot he sold in the winter months when he wasn’t working at Adventure World.

Part of me wanted to break mum’s heart. And I did. Terribly so. Clearly I was a typical angry teenager that listened to far more Alanis Morrisette than was good for me.

The reaction I got was exactly as I predicted. My words were like little horrible pieces of gristle I was forcing mum to swallow.

I think about it now and scold myself for being such a piece of work. Anyone who has met my mum knows she lights up the room (and my heart).

Anyway, I knew this was it. No going back. No being a boomerang. (This was when a boomerang was actually a boomerang and not the name of a generation of people who use the parental home as a base, not a place you actually leave for good.)

The Mister had a completely different experience of living at home. If he hadn’t taken the job in Kalgoorlie (and met me in the process) when he was 27, I hazard a guess he’d still be living with his folks.

His parents never made living at home too difficult for him, my parents never made it too easy to stay.

Just like the cool parents from Dirty Dancing…

That’s something that has stuck with me. My theory is that parents should make it incrementally harder for their kids to live at home in every passing year from 18 years onward – not the other way around.

For instance,

From 13 – 16: room to yourself, double bed (seriously, I know a 5-year-old girl that has one)

17 – 19: King-size single bed (I was made to sleep in my childhood single bed from when I was 6 to when I was 19, trust me, a king single is LUXURY)

20: Traditional single bed and if there is a teev in the room, that gets stripped.

21: Ahhh, happy 21st birthday! You no longer have an ensuite bathroom.

22: The only choice you get whether you want the top or bottom bunk in your 13-year-old brother’s room (no one wants to sleep in the same room as a teenage boy. No one.)


In The Mister’s case, up until he left in his late 20’s (and met me two weeks’ later – convenient) his living arrangement was like an Han Solo figurine still in its original box from the 70s, it only got better with age.

He went from sharing a room with his sister, to sharing a room with his older brother, to scoring the entire room when his brother moved out, to getting a double bed, to being allowed to have girlfriends stay over the night (*clutches pearls*) to scoring the granny flat out the back near the pool, to getting an ensuite built on to that granny flat.

My 19-year-old self seethes at his 19-year-old self.

So you can imagine my eye-popping alarm when he suggested we move back into his 20-something love den back at his folks place.

A bit of background.

We found a house. Well, a townhouse. But that’s fine as it still has the word house in it. Not flat. Not apartment. House.

Two issues

1 – We negotiated a really good price because the tenants were keen to stay on for another six months.

2 – We just sold my flat with all the furniture in it.

This was (and still to this day) the deal – the tenants could stay another six months while we moved in with The Mister’s parents and saved for furniture.

After the basking in the post-signing of mortgage afterglow as husband and wife, the terror dawned on me: talking about moving in with The Mister’s parents? Fine. Actually arriving at their place to park up for half a year? QUITE ANOTHER.

My mantra was ‘the longer we stay here, the more awesome furniture we can afford’. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I had broached this living arrangement with utter trepidation as, although was vacated by The Mister six years ago, I was certain the walls would be covered in posters of Joe Satriani, Nicole Eggert and Spiderman (in my worst nightmares there was also a Babes and Boar calendar strung up on the back of the bathroom door).

But no.

‘The Room’ at Rancho Relaxo was light with floating floorboards that make even your rubber thongs sound like you’re wearing stilettos and a separate bathroom so we pretty much come and go as we please without disturbing anyone in the main house.

Upon entering the room I asked The Mister where the bed was.

I had accidently sold ours.

We spent the next three hours tracking one down, which we found in his sister’s shed.

I had seen this (tiny, weeny, double) bed before.

You know how some furniture just seems to follow you? It turned out to be the same bed that followed me from Kalgoorlie, to Bunbury, to Mandurah then to my sister-in-law’s suburban shed. I honestly thought I had lost the thing by now. But no, here it was. Again.

The bed squeaks and the material that encases all the springs is wafer-thin, so it really is as comfortable as tucking yourself into a sleeping bag full of car parts.

But this situation has its perks, which are sometimes hard to see at first.

After the first couple of days of setting up house in the granny flat, after The Mister’s mum hid the wine from me, I realised this was going to be just like living with a couple of middle-aged housemates; housemates that use the oven for food – not drug – preparation.

Speaking of food, it’s everywhere.

The Mister’s parents are also grandparents, which means ‘grandchildren food’. This so-called ‘food’ is usually individually wrapped in high-gloss packaging that has the word ‘fun’ written on it. Seriously, have you tasted a Milo Bar? I tried one last week and thought this can’t be something that kids get in lunchboxes every day, right? I mean my pupils enlarged and heartbeat quickened at an alarming rate after scoffing that thing.

I have also noticed that the ‘grandchildren food’ is stored above head height. Which is excellent. The Mister has long arms.

But having middle-aged housemates also means that they like delicious sourdough bread (not just the cheap white stuff), Yorkshire Gold tea and a top-notch selection of cold cuts along with a fully-stocked pantry.

I still shed a small tear at such a sight.

The one person who gets the best deal out of the food situation is the cat. Having two sets of adult couples in the house, she’s got the ‘I’m hungry’ look down. It was two weeks and an expanding girth when we realised she has been scamming us out of getting two dinners most nights.

I also noticed a distinct plummet in constant questions about when we’re planning to get knocked up and start a family.

Not that I endorse buying a house purely as a distraction to the endless abyss of foetal interrogation, but in our situation, people are too engrossed in why you’ve moved back home and ‘what’s going on with the house’ to bother with the reproductive inquisition.

Which brings me to…. there is no easy way to say this.

Look, when I was living at home, there was no way on this planet that I was allowed to have a boyfriend stay the night, let alone stay the night in my room. Even if it was a reasonably long-term relationship, there was much slaving to the ‘not under my roof’ policy.

Now, especially now that we are legally sanctified, we have the green light for our temporary digs to be an on-tap passion pit of wanton desire.

Instead of being sneaky about it, now it’s expected, if not encouraged. And if there’s no rules or risk of being caught, well, where’s the fun in that?

But there are plenty of other rules, unspoken and otherwise.

Such as when the shower suddenly goes cold, you have to get out immediately. The thought of your father-in-law standing naked in the shower in the other bathroom can be all too much, especially if you start to think that he’s thinking that you’re naked in the shower with cold water rushing all over you.

My father-in-law has the infuriating habit of locking doors. All the doors. All the time. Even when we’re all home. So when I need to make a cup of tea or go get some more ice for the wine I just found in the back cupboard in the linen press, I have to remember, like a warden, to take the keys with me.

While I’m still the newbie in this side of the family, I still can’t help but act like a guest, awkwardly slinking around the kitchen and making sure I wear a bra underneath my PJs because hey, I’m just not that kind of comfortable just yet.

But the way to my parents-in-law hearts is the little things – like they are with any housemate – replace the milk if you use it all, replace the wine if you drink it all, replace the Cold Power if you use it all, hang out the washing and (my father-in-law will appreciate this one) lock the damn doors behind you.

I have also a wildcard under my belt – although I’m a bit more pack rat than neat freak – I have worked out that if I empty the dishwasher it’s like I’ve singlehandedly won the AFL grand final. Ever the competitor, The Mister has upped the anti by cleaning the pool. Total bastard move.

The Mister clearly gets his tidy vibes from his mum. They both seem to have the same school of thought as ASIO when it comes to an abandoned handbag on the coffee table or leaving bobby pins all over the bathroom sink – if you see something, say something.

Anyway, despite me having a good rapport with his folks from Day One anyway (I met them in the meat section of a supermarket in Kalgoorlie three hours before I was meant to be all dolled-up making the best first-time impression), living with them has actually improved our relationship with them.

Other than the endless supply of Take 5 and That’s Life magazines and copying all their CD’s (boomers really do have good taste in music, Dr Hook? More like Dr Yes Please), they’re not just the nicest landlords we’ve ever had, they’re the most generous people I’ve ever met.

One of my favourite moments is sitting with my father-in-law over breakfast being equally outraged at over-the-top fancy outdoor kitchens.

‘Who actually needs 8 burners on an outside BBQ? Seriously, who?’ he would rhetorically ask in his Liverpudlian tongue, with my mother-in-law chiming in ‘It’s ridiculous, it’s just another kitchen to clean, isn’t it?’ I love arguments where everyone emphatically agrees, especially over the Sunday newspaper catalogues.

I really do commend those people that choose to make it very easy for their adult children to move back home – I know it’s something that I would struggle with, only as I believe in ‘once you’re out, you’re out’. When I left home, my parents promptly turned my room into an office as soon as I was halfway down the street with my life packed up in my orange vinyl-roofed Escort. Same went for my brother, except he was well into his 20s before his bedroom was also turned into an office. So if you’re in the market for a house with one bedroom and two offices, you know who to call. I don’t think I was particularly lucky, I just got myself a job at a surfshop and lived with some friends and hoped for the best.

My best piece of advice, if you do find yourself back with the rents, it’s important to always have the Exit Strategy conversation on high rotation. The Mister and I talk about the new house constantly and give the parents weekly updates on what is happening – even if nothing is happening. It’s imperative to them and us that we’re not here for a free ride, we’re here purely as a stopgap measure.

It’s like any relationship. Except I don’t believe in ‘give and take’. If you constantly give, and they constantly give, it ends up being a sustainable relationship anyway.

As soon as one tires of contributing, or starts to take advantage, that’s when it all starts to unravel.

Try to move out before the welcome mat is pulled from underneath you.

You’ll know when it happens. It starts with your father-in-law wearing his shorty dressing gown about the place and not much else.

We’ll be out of their hair this week.