Since returning to my family home for lockdown, I seem to have reverted to some old habits. Specifically, ones I adopted in my teenage years.
My room is a mess from all the outfits I’ve been meticulously planning and trying on for summer events that I’m never going to attend. Arguments with my mother are rife because no, I don’t want to paint her gangly toenails and yes, I did just take a bottle of wine up to my room for a Zoom quiz without asking. Any reasonable request to help out with a basic chore is met with an eyeroll. And if I spill a dribble of orange juice on the kitchen counter, you better believe I’m not clearing it up. Regrettably, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The irony is that over the last five years I have successfully lived away from home; first at University up in Newcastle, then in Australia on a belated gap year and now in a flat in London. I’ve kept myself fed and watered, held down jobs (until now, cheers Corona) and organised my social life, but the second my foot crossed the threshold of my suburban family home on March 23 the “adult” me was invaded by a turbulent teen.
With many other 20-somethings moving back to the mothership in the quest for free food and rent, it seems I’m not alone in feeling and acting in a regressive way. I have a friend who chooses to go to bed at 3am in order to wake up as late as possible with the aim of minimising time spent with his family, another who storms out the room every time a dinner debate turns sour, and my personal favourite is a photo I was sent by a friend of a huge gash down her back courtesy of her sister during a physical fight.
“I certainly notice how my dad and his three siblings revert to their adolescent selves whenever they get together”
It’s not hard to work out that this behaviour is partly down to the worldwide pandemic we’re currently experiencing and the frustrations and anxieties that come from that, but it’s also worth noting that we often act this way at Christmas or on a family holiday – no matter what age. I certainly notice how my dad and his three siblings revert to their adolescent selves whenever they get together; whether it’s sniggering over a sexual innuendo my granny accidentally made or the infamous ham hock incident of 2012, which saw my uncle hurl a whole leg of ham across the kitchen at my aunt in an act of rage. If our friends saw us act this way we would be mortified, so why do we feel so comfortable reverting to teenage behaviour at home?
I did some googling, and it turns out there is actually a psychological reason. According to California-based psychologist Dr. Juli Fraga, “one way to understand our regressive behaviour is to view it through the lens of classical conditioning. It’s a behavioural theory of psychology that says that there are stimuli that trigger old memories, which can spark regressive behaviours.” These stimuli can be anything from eating at your childhood dining table to sleeping in the same polaroid-covered bedroom that hosted sleepovers, alcohol smuggling, and, if lucky, the odd fondle. When returning to an environment so innately haunted by the moody ghost of teenage past, it’s hardly a surprise we become engulfed by it.
On top of this, there is also the theory that families have specific systems and roles that keep them functioning. It seems my family are a stunning example of this; my parents were very hands on with the “adult” responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning and washing, whilst my brother and I (even at 18) were perfectly happy to stay in our lesser lane of ‘the children’, playing the contrasting roles of good child, bad child. Fraga explains that upon entering the old system, it’s natural to snap back into your well-rehearsed role. And this is the same for parents too – whether it be nagging about rooms or making snide comments about weight, when we return home parents often regress to their “parental” role, treating their adult kids like children. It seems to me that problems arise when each party expects the other to have now adapted their role in some way, but doesn’t adapt themselves. Guess what Mumsie? I’m not going to help out with the hoovering if each time we get in an argument you’re going to scold me like an underaged youth by cutting off my wine supply at dinner.
Being back at home in this nationwide lockdown with no real time scale and a diminish in responsibilities (particularly for those of us on furlough) only amplifies the behaviour that occurs over the short duration of Christmas. It’s even harder to suppress tensions and old habits, and it can become increasingly frustrating when you find yourself acting and being treated like a teenager. If you’ve noticed an irritable regression, take comfort in knowing that it is psychologically normal and you are only one of the many house-bound adult children experiencing it right now. That being said, rather than stewing over the situation, try to recognise your behaviour and maybe make a conscious effort to help out after dinner, rather than slinking off to the sofa to continue your incessant binge of Netflix. If you can bear it, it might even be worth talking to your parents about how you expect to be treated now you’re an independent “adult”.
If all else fails, it’s possible that as lockdown continues your behaviour and that of those around you may start to naturally ease up anyway as new routines and systems are established, creating that ever important ‘new normal’.
By Molly Stringer