Lakshya lives in a rented apartment in the national capital with his wife. On occasion, he visits his parents who have their own home nearby. In his article for the online news portal KMAG, of which he’s also the founder, he writes of how leaving home to raise children with their own set of values is a practice as old as humanity. His article got a lot of reaction on social media, especially from 20-somethings Kathmanduties who found solace in his words.
Akash Dahal, 23, manager at KAT Centre Nepal, was one of them. “There is a large generation gap between us and our parents. We’re always told to adjust our lifestyle to theirs,” he says. “When we should be figuring out life, we also have to include our parents and consider what they think about our choices. It’s just additional stress.”
Moving out of parents’ homes isn’t a new thing in urban cities of Nepal. We’ve all witnessed joint families breaking up after a son decides to move into his own home to start his family. Nuclear families have been around for decades now. And many young people live alone to live independently.
When Suprabha Bhusal, 23, a radio presenter at Radio Nagarik, started staying at a girls’ hostel, it was purely out of necessity. Her parents had moved to India and despite having a house in New Baneswor, she wasn’t sure that she could handle the responsibility.
But after two years in the hostel, Bhusal is confident that even if her parents move back, she won’t live with them again. “You become responsible and start figuring things out for yourself,” she tells ApEx. “I didn’t know the real value of money until I started living away from my family. I never understood the importance of having a career, diversifying income sources, eating healthy, and saving before I became financially independent.” Bhusal believes the past two years have taught her far too many things for her to go back to living with her family.
Theory and practice
But some are hesitant, not because they don’t want to be independent, but because they don’t know how to take the first step. Twenty-one-year-old computer engineering student Aagab Pant says that while the idea of moving out sounds great in theory, with no proper education or experience to meet his financial needs, it’s also impractical. “Yes, while living with your parents, it’s sometimes difficult to navigate the generation gap and you don’t have as much freedom as you could have by living alone. But being able to focus on studies without having to worry about money—is that such a bad deal?”
Seconding his statement is 17-year-old Smriti Roka. “Without work experience, we will probably end up doing labor jobs or working in customer service, which wouldn’t be a problem if we had dignity of labor,” she says. “Young people can’t be expected to work in low-paying jobs with no benefits while also doing well academically and maintaining sound mental health.”
But even with stable, better-paying jobs, leaving home isn’t easy. Says Yasaswi Dhungel, 29, senior field officer at CREPHA, an environment-related NGO, “Circumstances change as you grow older. You can’t afford to be as naïve and carefree as you were in your early 20s,” he says. “In a city like Kathmandu, it’s difficult to find a good place to stay independently without spending a large chunk of your salary on rent. It's better to discuss the option of having a floor for yourself rather than leaving home completely.”
There are also those like Rozina Baral, copywriter at eCdemy Nepal, who would rather go abroad. “I want to move out, I want to experience life on my own terms and face the burden of my responsibilities alone, but I can’t do that here,” she says. Baral, 24, who’s living with her mother in a rented home in Shantinagar, is already paying her share of the bills. But going abroad, she reckons, would help her be more self-dependent.
18 and free
“Nepalis have the habit of cuddling their children and turning their families into a safety net,” she says. “No matter how old you are, you stay home with your parents, where you will always be the child,” Baral says. By the time you learn to think, you also have to think for the rest of your family, your spouse, your children, their children. “Look at the people in developed countries!” she says. “They learn to be self-sufficient by 18. No wonder they’re so far ahead. Most of us here haven’t even learned how to look after ourselves by our mid-20s.”
Darshan Parajuli, a student at Asian College of Journalism, agrees with Baral. As a 27-year-old who’s lived in Kathmandu since he gave his SLC exams in 2011, he believes going abroad is a good choice. “I’ve had friends over the years who left the country and returned as completely different people. Being responsible for yourself comes with challenges and it changes your perspective too,” he says. “However, independence shouldn’t be your only intent for leaving. Go out to explore and learn—freedom will come with it.”
Sapkota, however, says that everything the West has to offer, we can find in our own country. “There are opportunities here,” he says. “You just have to know your way around the society.”
Says Rojisha Shahi Thakuri, a psychologist at Healthy Minds Nepal, “In my personal opinion, the culture of staying in a joint family, or staying with your parents doesn’t mean you can’t be successful as a person, or as a country.” She gives the example of Japan, the East-Asian country that is similar to us in family dynamics and yet has achieved global dominance.
“Understandably, many young people want to move out of their homes,” she continues. “This generation is largely aware of the significance of mental health and understands that the home environment deeply affects our quality of life.” Family issues are one of the most discussed subjects among her own clients, Thakuri shares. Youths today know they don’t have to stay in unbearable circumstances that jeopardize their mental wellbeing, she further adds, they understand the dehumanization that comes with toxic relationships with family members and they’re more outspoken about it.
They’re also more open about exploring newer ideas, which is where the Western influence comes in. It is not imperative that you move away unless the environment is extremely toxic, Thakuri says. Address the issue and communicate with family rather than leaving impulsively. Running away to a different country for independence is counterproductive for mental health. “Moving isn’t going to magically solve all your problems. You have to deal with the loneliness that comes with it. You can’t be impulsive with life-changing choices.”
This is why Dahal says he wants to move out only when he is financially stable. “Family is necessary, no one is saying it isn’t,” says Dahal. “But they can be just as important from a distance. We can look after our parents and explore our lives at the same time.”
Moving doesn’t mean we love our parents any less, Sapkota adds: “If I can be in Australia and my love for my parents isn’t questioned, why is my love questioned if I’m living a few miles away?”
A growing majority
In a survey among 30 individuals in their 20s, ApEx asked if Nepalis should also adopt the culture of children moving out at 18. Twenty of them replied in the negative while 10 were all for it.
But when asked if they wanted to move out of their parent’s house and live independently, three answered ‘maybe’, five answered ‘no’, and 22 said ‘yes’. Lastly, asked whether they will be living away from family if they are financially stable, seven voted ‘no’ and 23 voted ‘yes’.
Minesh Ghimire, assistant professor of sociology at Tribhuwan University, says that one reason why parents are so insecure about their children leaving is because of the absence of social security for older folks. “Old-age homes are frowned upon,” he says. “And parents, rather than saving money for their retirement, tend to spend it all on their children.”
While the culture of moving out at 18, or moving out at all, is a western idea that we’ve imitated as a result of globalization, it isn’t completely without logic. “Our children will learn how to be self-sufficient and responsible at a young age if they know there’s no safety net to cover their old age,” Ghimire says. But many parents here have the idea that ‘if I struggle and help my child be the best, they will take care of me when I’m old’, and that puts the child under pressure. “The child, knowing that they’ll have to take care of their parents until their death, already feels bogged down by this responsibility and is desperate to escape.”
Sapkota says parents should not consider their children’s decision to move out as a betrayal. “If someone were to move to Kathmandu from Jhapa in search of a better life, would their parents feel betrayed? How is it any different when youths in Kathmandu want to do the same?” he asks. “No one should feel trapped in their own homes,” he says.