When I finished college in 2014, I immediately left my parents’ house and decided to live independently from them. I stopped relying on them financially, although I still paid them a visit every now and then. It is not that I had any bad blood with my parents – I had a great relationship with papa and mama. It is just that I knew early on that I could not be relying on them for long. The moment I started getting my own paychecks, I stopped any form of dependence on them already.
It was, after all, a common expectation among most adults: upon finishing their studies, they will leave their parents’ house to live independently. Because here in the Philippines, if you are an adult who still lives with your parents, people can only think of two possible reasons why: either you are the breadwinner or you are irresponsible, lazy, “walang diskarte,” “pabigat.”
And then the pandemic hit. On March 16, 2020, a third of the Philippines was put on a sweeping lockdown. I am sure all of you can still remember that day when most of us were scurrying back home. Many rented real estates were left empty. I had a lot of colleagues who literally packed their bags, booked flights (almost impossibly), and went back to their respective hometowns – from as near as Bulacan and Cavite to as far as Bacolod in Negros Occidental and Oroquieta City in Misamis Occidental. As for me, I joined hundreds of passengers in a small bus terminal in Manila, all of us eager to get a lucky seat. We all just wanted to get out of Manila, which was then the epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the country.
So, goodbye for now, Manila. Goodbye for now, my independent life. See you whenever.
Battling the anxieties of unemployment
In April 2020, a month after the beginning of what would become the world’s longest lockdown, the Philippines’s unemployment rate posted a record-high 17.6% or equivalent to 7.2 million Filipinos. More than a year later, in May 2021, the unemployment rate was estimated at 7.7% or almost 3.8 million Filipinos. While there is a very obvious decline in these numbers, the fact remains that millions of Filipinos still remain jobless.
One of them is Jonathan Pineda, who used to work as a talent scout and handler for a modeling agency in Quezon City. Prior to the pandemic, 32-year-old Pineda was regularly scouting for promising talents or accompanying his current talents in several events – from VTR auditions to tapings for TV shows and commercials.
“It was a very tiring job. For example, if a TV show would have a whole-day taping in Pampanga, they would require all of our talents to be present in the location from the set-up in the early morning to pack-up at midnight, even though my talents would be needed for just a couple of scenes,” shared Pineda. “As a handler, I had to accompany my talents; I could not leave them unsupervised. So if they were there day and night, I would be there with them day and night, too.”
Pineda said that his pay from that job was enough to pay his monthly bills. He was renting out a studio apartment for P5,000 monthly (US$99), and an estimate of P2,000 (US$40) for electric and water bills. He also had to set aside money for his food and transportation, among others. “I always tried to live within my means, but it was hard because my pay is not a lot but my monthly bills are always a lot.”
If living alone was hard, then why did he do it? Couldn’t he just live with his parents so that he could, at least, save some money? Wouldn’t that have been the more practical option? “I grew up being very uncomfortable living with my family because of differences in attitude,” he told me. “You know how, in a family, there is love but at the same time there are just constant misunderstandings? That happens in my family, a lot. So I always wanted to leave that place.”
Pineda has been living alone since he was 18, or 14 years ago. Until the pandemic had forced the creative industries – particularly TV, film, theater, and advertising – to temporarily cease their operations. This also forced the jobless and penniless Pineda to go back to Tarlac, where his parents were. While some have already managed to come back by now, not everybody is as lucky.
“I feel very embarrassed because I had to go back here. I told them I would be here for just a couple of weeks. But more than a year later, I am still here,” Pineda told me. “I do not know until when I will be here because it would be crazy to go back to Manila without a sure job, right? I have been applying to full-time jobs, but nada.”
As a high school dropout, Pineda is having a hard time applying for a more permanent job. All he could get since he moved back to Tarlac last year were mostly freelance hair and makeup styling gigs, which, he said, do not even come by often.
Pineda admitted to me that he feels discouraged to go out of their house for fear of being asked questions. “More than being scared of getting COVID-19, I am even more scared that our neighbors would ask me why I came back here. I had a life in Manila already so why am I back here? Why am I back to living again with my parents, even though I am now in my 30s already? I am constantly trying to evade these questions.”
In a 2011 study, it is reported that unemployed adults tend to have higher levels of impaired mental health such as depression, anxiety, and stress. Joy Laberinto, a registered counselor, also said that adults who lost a job tend to display behaviors of self-pity.
“This is most probably because of our Westernized culture that adults should be living independently already. In the US, a person leaves his or her family’s house upon reaching 18 years old. Somehow, we have gotten that mindset,” said Laberinto. This mindset is more evident in urban areas, which may be because of the smaller real estate spaces. In rural areas, houses and lots are typically bigger so it is common that several families live together in a house or a compound.
Losing freedom, independence as an adult
“I always thought that moving back in to live with my parents would be a nightmare,” Diane Urata told me. “I love my parents to death. But going back to live with them again was just not an option to me before COVID-19 pandemic hit. I am not exaggerating, but I really thought of that situation – living with them again – as possibly the worst possible outcome that could happen to me.”
I asked why. “Well, you know in our culture, we tend to judge adults who still live their parents as irresponsible and lazy. I knew some friends who never left their parents’ house after college, and I admit I judged them to be irresponsible and immature. So if I go back to live with my parents, I would be very embarrassed.”
Urata, 28, was working as a flight attendant prior to the pandemic. She was renting a one-bedroom apartment in Manila, although she was always out of the country, hence the apartment was always left empty. “So when I was in that apartment, I always invited friends over. I loved hosting and entertaining guests,” she shared. “I would cook meals and would invite my friends to come and eat. I always enjoyed seeing other people enjoy my cooking.”
Urata was proud of being an independent adult. “I learned how to be responsible to another living being (her chow-chow, Tasha), clean up the entire apartment, and do grocery runs. I never did those things back when I was with my parents because we had a helper who would do those things.”
But Urata was left with no other choice but to face her “nightmare.” She had decided to move back in with her parents in Novaliches after living independently for seven years. “It was a very hard decision. But at that time, it felt like there was nothing much to decide on. I really had no choice. My friends did not want to let me live with them for fear of getting the virus. My parents, on the other hand, did not think much of such fears; of course, they wanted their baby girl to come back and live with them,” Urata told me.
She is the youngest in a brood of five, and all of her eldest siblings have their own families already. So now, she is the only child to be living with her parents.
“It was very hard to me at first. And even until now, I still get anxious about the fact that I am still here,” she said.
“When I have to go out to meet with friends or run some errands, I still feel weird that I have to tell my parents that I am going out for a while. They do not require me to, but I still do it out of courtesy because that is just how we are raised, right? Whereas back when I was living alone, I did not have those little concerns every time I would leave. It is those many little things that make me feel anxious and uncomfortable in this situation. I feel like I am back to being a child. It is frustrating sometimes.”
Laberinto, the counselor, said that adults like Urata should always look at the two sides of the coin: on one side, the fact that they lost their freedom and independence that they loved and enjoyed so much since they moved back in with their parents, and on the other side is the fact that they have seen that their parents remain to be very welcoming of them.
“There are many adults who just see one side, which has the negative sides. Yes, we cannot invalidate them for that because there really is that unfortunate side, right? But they should not disregard the other side, too.”
Pros of living again with parents
Laberinto said that adults like Pineda and Urata should learn to position themselves in a “survivor situation” instead of in a “victim situation.”
“If adults who were forced to move back in with their parents keep on waiting for things to go back to normal so that they could go away from their parents again, they see themselves as victims of the situation. All they do is hope that things will go back to normal. So as they wait, they keep on seeing how they have been affected by the situation, hence they see themselves as victims in the process,” Laberinto said.
The counselor added that during these trying times, it is very understandable already if an adult is back to living again with his immediate family. In fact, it may even be more beneficial to both parties, said Laberinto.
“For the parents, I am sure that they want their children to be back home. That way, they feel more assured that their children are safe from the health risks outside,” she said. “For the children, on the other hand, they can feel that they have a lifesaver, right? They are reminded that during very tough times, they have a family that they can run to. During a global health crisis, knowing that you are not alone already means a lot, so these adults are actually very lucky. They should always remember that.”
Adults who are back in their parents’ house have the option to be more creative in fighting off their anxieties. “Instead of thinking, ‘Oh, I lost my job. I am back with my parents. This is embarrassing,’ maybe they can also be more creative in how they can still earn money and help their parents with monthly bills; that way, they can lessen their embarrassment that they are being a burden. I see that in many people. I met a person once who lost his job but is now selling clothes. Another person I met also lost his job but is now selling fruits. These may be menial jobs, but these are respectable jobs. Better than not having any at all, right?”
Lastly, moving back in with parents may also be a good opportunity to settle earlier differences. At least this is what happened to Pineda.
“I kept wondering why we have not been fighting more often anymore as before,” he said, laughing. “I realized that it was 14 years ago since I left this house. I am now an adult, and my parents are a lot older now, too. I guess we have just outgrown our differences.”
Urata, on the other hand, echoed Pineda. She realized that living back with her parents did not seem so bad after all. “I had an online job interview once, and my mom helped me with my hair. When I was living alone, I always had a hard time with my hair. But my mom is the only master of working on my hair because she always did this when I was growing up.”
Will they still want to leave their parents’ house soon, when things are a lot better already?
Urata said, “Yes, of course. But at least by now, the ‘nightmare’ I had before about moving back in with my parents is already gone. I would be more excited to visit them once in a while because I have been reminded this entire year that this home, really, is home. I have gone to so many places as a flight attendant, but I can now say that there is nothing else like home.”
Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who has written in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications in the Philippines.