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Pandemic nesters: what it's like to move back with your parents during lockdown | Life and style


Covid-19 has reshaped geographic boundaries. It has left many financially distressed. Expatriates have returned from overseas for indefinite periods of time, and vulnerable people require more help than usual. For all these reasons, and many more, adult children have found themselves doing something that might previously have been unthinkable: moving back in with their parents.

Some are finding the experience transformative. One woman, who left New York for her parent’s rural home, told me that the space and country air have made her reconsider whether she will ever return to the city. But there are also downsides. “I’m craving male attention more than I ever have before,” she confessed. When flirting over apps stopped cutting it, she wound up ordering a vibrator in an unmarked box, and fended off her younger siblings in order to retrieve it from the mailbox.

While some families are redrawing the household rules they grew up with, other adults are finding themselves slipping back into adolescence. Here, four people in very different circumstances share their stories.

‘I realise this is a very valuable time’ – Franki Birrell

In December my mother broke her hip. She had an operation, and heart attack after that. She got gangrene in her toes, and she had to go back to the hospital to have them off. She spent three months in hospital. All that transpired just before her 101st birthday, which was the 17th of March.

I came here knowing I could get stuck, but at the same time wanting to ensure she had everything in place. I was not really sure what was happening with the coronavirus at that point, because no one was.





Franki Birrell and her mother at home together.



Franki Birrell and her mother at home together. Photograph: Franki Birrell

I was very concerned about setting up the services that she would need, and just being here for her. She was pretty vulnerable at that point. We weren’t sure whether she was going to survive any of this, and she has. She’s gotten stronger.

I must admit the first week I was very teary, when I realised I probably wasn’t going to get home. It was difficult for her too, because she had to become used to not being quite as in control of things. But after that first week, having the nurses coming less and less, it’s really been very good.

We just live day by day and we live very happily most of the time. It’s not so much a routine – I do the shopping, but she’s very very self-sufficient. We just flow with it. We do get dressed in the morning though.





Cup of tea



‘We use the opportunity to talk a lot of the time.’

This is the longest period we’ve been together, really since I left home at the age of 18. We use the opportunity to talk a lot of the time, about her history. We do our own things too, we might watch television, I do a bit of gardening. I appreciate that my mother is so sparky. She has courage, and I think that’s wonderful. Even though I hanker for being home, I haven’t been down all that much.

I spent eight years looking after my husband. The last two years, when he was really gravely ill, were very difficult. He died last September. This was thrown at me a couple of months later, so the grieving process has been disrupted. But I feel stronger. He was a brilliant man, and we had a wonderful life together. I listen to a lot of podcasts now, and it reminds me of the intellectual conversations I used to have with my husband.

I’ve well and truly left my teenage stage behind, and I’m quite grateful for that. It would be quite terrible if I was here, and my mother was running after me, like she keeps promising to do. She keeps saying to me, ‘Well I should be doing something for you.’ It probably would have been very confronting if I’d done this forty years ago. Now I appreciate how precious this time we have together is.

‘Obviously keeping a routine would be helpful, but I’m not doing that’ – James*

When you move back in with your parents, you work out a way to not be there as much. You basically just sleep there. I moved back in with my mother temporarily right before Christmas. I was planning to move out again when the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic. I remember the date, it was 12 March. My stepdad is very unwell, and so I called my work and started to organise working from home.





Removalists on Bondi Road, Bondi.



‘I was planning to move out again when the World Health Organisation declared a pandemic.’ Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

My parents thought they were doing the social distancing thing, but they don’t understand how to do it. My mum kept going to work, and my stepdad kept doing “retired man stuff”, like going to lunch. The day they closed the restaurants, they had a dinner party here. I’d been inside for two weeks already, so I was pretty tense. No one washed their hands. It was really messy. Some guests had just got back from overseas. People were sharing food with their hands. I remember muttering to my mum: “Well we’re all dead”. Some people are not taking this situation seriously enough. I can safely say I’m taking it too seriously. They’re better at social distancing now though.

I work in the arts, and I’ve lost my job now. I sleep how cave rats sleep, in four hour blocks. It’s been tense. I’m drinking a lot more. But I’m sure there are people much worse off.





For lease sign at Bondi.



‘I now feel very nihilistic.’

Now we’re all forced to be with each other all the time, there’s been a lot of arguing. Bringing up stuff that was there for a long time that we’ve never discussed. Sometimes it’s things that happened 20 years ago.

I’m cleaning a lot more and I’m a better house guest now. But because I started early, I now feel very nihilistic. If someone invited me to a party now, I would probably go – but now everyone’s taking it seriously. I feel like I got in too early, like I’ve been social distancing for six months.

My mental health is in the toilet. As far as us all living with each other, I think they’re being pretty patient with how bananas I’ve gone. But I also love to complain. Really, it’s fine.

I’m hyper aware of how lucky I am’ – Senthorun Raj

I came back to Australia for a fellowship, to launch my book and to check up on family and spend time with them. I was supposed to be here until the end of March. When the lockdowns started happening, I thought ‘should I try and get an earlier flight?’





Senthorun (centre) with his parents Ramani (left) and Sunil (right) at the launch of his book Feeling Queer Jurisprudence before lockdowns began.



Senthorun (centre) with his parents Ramani (left) and Sunil (right) at the launch of his book Feeling Queer Jurisprudence before lockdowns began. Photograph: Senthorun Raj

I decided to stay here, and given everything that’s happened, I think I’ve made the right choice. I live alone back in Manchester and I haven’t lived with my parents in about 12 years, so it’s been an adjustment.

My parents have always been 100% supportive. My mum bakes me delicious pink cakes and she’s teaching me how to cook. I am learning how to make some curries while I’m here, traditional Tamil cooking. We’re slowly increasing the difficulty levels.

My parents also look after my nephew and niece, so they spend a lot of time with them, and I do as well. But my parents also give me a lot of space. I’ll remember my lockdown as a time of trashy gay romance novels and TikTok. My work is quite emotionally draining, and it’s been a wonderful escape.





Baking tray with six iced cupcakes.



‘My mum bakes me delicious pink cakes and she’s teaching me how to cook.’

Given that there’s been so many stories about people in lockdown with abusive partners or parents, especially in the context of LGBTIQ people, I am so lucky. My parents don’t police my behaviour, or ask me to do too much.

My parents have always done a lot of domestic stuff, and never expected or asked us to do it. I try to help out, and my parents are like ‘Why are you doing this?’ My mum gets quite upset if I say thank you – she says, ‘Why are you thanking me? I’m not a stranger, I’m your mother.’ It’s endearing but also reflects a cultural dynamic that I think other families don’t really have, in terms of how parents relate to their kids when they’re back home.

In some ways it’s been like becoming a teenager again. I’ve certainly become more lazy, given the inability to go out.

‘I started to freak out about the amount of diabetics in ICU’ – Katie*

I was meant to move overseas in late April. I had been working to pack my life up, and live with my parents for a bit, but that got brought forward. I have Type 1 diabetes and as news reports started to come in, I was freaking out about having contact with anything to do with coronavirus. I was meant to live here for a month and basically, I haven’t moved out. I don’t really want to interact with the world.





The Royal Melbourne Hospital Head of Intensive Care Unit (ICU).



‘My parents are really happy for me to be here, because they’ve been concerned from the start from a health perspective.’ Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian

We all agreed to follow the same level of restrictions, to limit it coming into the house. If there’s outside interaction there’s a process, if there’s a delivery, there’s a cleaning process. My parents have compromised to meet that level of restriction.

I feel really lucky. As a freelancer not having to pay rent has been a plus, since my work has been affected. I’m doing all the cooking because I’m not paying rent. I’ve also been doing work round the house to try and contribute – those are suggestions I’ve made, they didn’t ask that of me, but it’s been received well.

But my parents are Boomers and we don’t agree in terms of politics and world views, so conversation’s not great. But we’ve agreed to have dinner together every night. I definitely think there’s elements of regression, but I’m hopefully better at dealing with them now, given I’m 33. I definitely don’t feel good about myself when I can sense there’s a learned frustration that hasn’t been worked through.





Newcastle streets are seen empty as locals isolate at home.



‘I’m mentally struggling with the isolation.’

We’re way out in the suburbs. There’s some space in the house, so I can walk away. But I can’t just leave if it gets tense, so I’m being more amicable. I call on my friends a lot more, in terms of calls and texts, so I can get social contact from other places.

My plans to move overseas are probably not going to happen now, so I’m in a transient phase. I’m mentally struggling with the isolation, that’s been the hardest thing to deal with. I don’t think before Covid I would ever have done a video call, but that’s been really helpful for me in terms of staying sane.

At this point I’m planning to be here probably until at least July. My parents are really happy for me to be here, because they’ve been concerned from the start from a health perspective. I’m lucky that they’re comfortable with me staying, until we move into whatever a new normal life looks like.

*Names have been changed

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