Upon receiving my acceptance letter into medical school, one of the first decisions I made was to move back home with my parents. I made the decision in a heartbeat, thinking about the financial benefits, the emotional support, and the multigenerational knowledge that I would obtain during an extremely difficult four years of my life. And while the rationale was blatantly obvious to me, it was met with hesitation by most of my colleagues.
For myself, the decision also came with a lot of mixed emotions. American convention dictates that young adults leave home at age 18, and remaining with parents is a sign of failure. Indeed, moving back into my childhood home made me feel like I was regressing. As my college friends grew up without me, I felt like I was backtracking into my high school routine. Yet, in the context of struggling to find rent in the Bay Area during the years prior, I was grateful for a stable home and a warm bed.
Ten years later, I can easily say that this was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Living with my parents during medical school taught me invaluable lessons that made me a better doctor and helped me become a better person.
Humility was one of the first things I had to embrace when I moved home. With the all-consuming nature of medical school, I no longer had time to do all the little things I once did. Luckily, my parents were generously willing to give me the practical and emotional support I needed to thrive. When I came home hungry after lectures, my parents always left me an extra plate, and if I needed to be picked up late at night, my parents were always willing to chauffeur me home. I was reminded that I am not the indestructible, independent superhuman that I once thought I was. Medical training requires teamwork, and having gained the humility to rely on my team members has served me well, not only in my interactions with other clinicians but also in my interactions with my patients.
Living with my older parents filled me with perspective that kept me grounded. Throughout the four years of medical school, I took my parents to various doctors’ appointments, helped them with their finances, and understood the day-to-day responsibilities and challenges of older adults as well as the feelings of isolation and loneliness that plague their communities. I am now better able to empathize with my elderly patients, seeing the challenges of being an elderly adult without family nearby.
When I lived in the Bay Area, my days were constantly about getting from one appointment to the next. I lived out of a big backpack that carried my entire day, which was planned from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed. I became so used to the constantly turning wheel that I never took a moment to stop for a breath of air. When I moved home, I was forced to slow down. I went for spontaneous walks with my parents, spent more time at the dinner table, and took a few moments each day to sit down and do nothing. These moments made way for me to cleanse my life of obligations I no longer valued, creating space for the things that truly added to my life.
Multigenerational living has grown sharply in the U.S. over the past five decades and continues to rise. The benefits of such households are many, and these benefits became exceptionally clear to me during medical school. Now, having just welcomed a newborn child with my husband into our family of three, I would embrace a multigenerational home situation in a heartbeat.
While not every parent-child relationship is the same as mine, I feel immensely privileged to have had the time with my parents that I did. I will always cherish that part of medical school and the lessons they taught me, lessons that have been invaluable in becoming a better physician and a better, happier person.
Would you consider living with your parents again? Share in the comments.
Thea L. Swenson received a bachelor’s degree in engineering, product design from Stanford University and a medical degree from the University of Colorado. She is currently a resident in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Vanderbilt University and hopes to specialize in sports medicine. Thea is a 2022–2023 Doximity Op-Med Fellow.
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