Photo: Jonas Tufvesson/Shutterstock

How Millennials Can Use Travel to Turn the Tables on Their Parents

by Turner Wright Sep 1, 2017

MANY MILLENIALS have been in a position where we’ve had to move back home, or at least consider it. I was fortunate enough to graduate before the job market crashed, but I left the country and returned just as unemployment began to soar. I’ve never worked full time and stayed with my parents to cut down on living expenses, but I have “visited” them for a few weeks while job searching. Between international trips, I would extend my stay under the pretense of not having seen them for several months.

Once, when I decided to stay out all night during a two-week visit, I didn’t think anything of not telling my mother I’d be on a date. She called in a panic late that night, assuming I must have been murdered or kidnapped. This is despite the fact I had lived for years abroad and didn’t bother to call them whenever I socialized.

Having your adult privileges revoked is often just the tip of the iceberg. It’s one thing to visit for a few days and be expected to attend family dinners. It’s another to have all your free time monopolized. Often, I just wanted to stay at home and get some writing done, but since I wasn’t “doing anything”, my parents just assumed I’d be willing to go out to eat.

Even when I was a working professional living abroad in his own place, it’s remarkable how all of that faded away after a few days at my childhood home. Living under the “my house, my rules” doctrine made sense growing up when I didn’t have anywhere else to go: sucking it up and doing as you were told was the only option.

The breaking point

A few years ago, when I was the only child returning for Thanksgiving, I didn’t think I would have to worry about a one-week visit (flying in and out on Tuesdays saved a lot on airfare, and I was on a freelancer’s schedule). There came a point during the stay when the racial slurs and falsehoods about the state of the country started flowing. I didn’t bother to sit my parents down and talk it out until they saw the light. I just accepted there are things you can’t change in this world, and one of them is the opinions of 70+year-old conservatives in Texas.

Living at home is about being a good guest. You don’t argue with your hosts, and do your best to join them in activities they enjoy. You sacrifice your own interests and comfort for the sake of the group. “Escaping” is possible, but it would involve an unnecessary financial burden, not to mention an explanation. When there is friction at home, though I’m capable of escaping by renting a hotel room or asking a friend if I can crash, I still feel a need to maintain the façade of “one big happy family.”

How can you make your parents understand your feelings?

Is it even possible for millennials to turn the tables? Most of us don’t own our own homes (or have any desire to), so it’s unlikely we’ll be holding family gatherings at our place over the holidays and able to throw down the same “my house, my rules” doctrine when relatives step over the line.

Like so many issues, the solution is travel. Living abroad levels the playing field amongst expats. Unless you’re a millionaire and able to live in an American bubble in another country, you’re just as helpless as the rest of us when it comes time to try and order food or find a place to live. If you’ve spent some time at home and want to try and make your parents empathize with your financial situation, or if you’re just looking for a holiday where you, the child, have the advantage, invite your family to visit you in another country, one in which you’re familiar with the language and customs.

Millennials may not be able to host their seven brothers and sisters and three grandparents for a Christmas dinner without a proper home, but they can ask them to come see what life is like in Asia and take it from there.

Has your mother been asking when you’re going to have children? Shut that invasive talk down abroad by refusing to tell the waiter what she wants in Mandarin until she knows just how truly upsetting and annoying it is to hear that question at every meeting.

If my parents visit me in Japan, I intend to lay out my house rules: you’re in “my” country, so spouting borderline (or well over the line) racist BS is not allowed. Nor is discussing politics. Nor is questioning my career path.

Feeling helping abroad provokes empathy

If parents really don’t like this approach, they could just abandon you and go on with their trip, but that’s just the point: you’re family, and they want to try and understand the situation, just as you do at home. Abroad, we travelers are the ones in control, the ones who can speak the language, navigate the bus system, legally drive, and tell them what’s good to eat.

Everything could be resolved at home with good communication and a more open relationship, but if you’re diametrically opposed on major life issues – religion, politics, children, employment – what’s the best way to get the other side to listen, when financially and culturally they always seem to have the upper hand? I’m far from the perfect house guest, but I don’t go out of my way to criticize their choices. If my parents are unable to act like I do when they visit me in my home, I’ll simply tell them they can find their own way back to the hotel without being able to read the street signs or having data on their phones.

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