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Why some young Malaysians choose independence for freedom and mental well-being over staying with their parents

Moving out while having the luxury of your parent's roof over your head can be daunting, but for some people, it was a much needed step for their well-being.

An Asian couple fixing a table.
Some young Malaysians have chosen to move out of their parents home and be independent to have a 'happier' life. (Photo: Getty Images)

In Asian cultures, it is not uncommon to find multiple generations residing under the same roof, fostering a sense of unity and shared responsibility when taking care of the household. Living with one's parents can offer financial stability, shared responsibilities, and also a comforting sense of security.

However, challenges may arise when the expectations set during childhood clash with the realities of adult life.

Some young adults, too, are breaking free from this tradition, instead choosing to carve their own paths to independence for the sake of personal growth and mental wellbeing.

Yahoo Southeast Asia spoke to several individuals who have chosen to do so, and took a look at the complex dynamics that lead them to embrace independence.

Some move out due to 'dysfunctional' family

“I grew up in a household where I constantly needed to expect the unexpected - safe to say trust was rarely guaranteed," Dina, a 26-year-old professional, shared candidly on her journey of breaking free from a family structure that no longer resonated with her.

According to Dina, her father was "not the best role model in terms of being good with finances" and also had a number of affairs.

"Having to learn this at 15-years-old really changed my perspective on how things were dealt with, and for the longest time I was angry but couldn’t pinpoint what or who I was angry at," Dina said.

Meanwhile, her mother resigned from her job when Dina was 17, and had to rely a lot on her father.

"She didn’t really have a social circle outside of her siblings and my dad, part of me felt I needed to stay for her,” Dina said.

Dina had gone to the United Kingdom to study when she was 21, but had to return after a year because of financial difficulties and could not complete her degree. However, it was her therapist in the UK who played a pivotal role in helping Dina understand the root of her anger and resentment, telling her that "things never sat right at home because they were never right" for her.

“Coming back was tough because I had to deal with issues at home first hand, and I saw for the first time the reality of my family - it was, in essence, dysfunctional. As much as I tried to deal with the conflict and expressed the dissatisfaction of how we deal with things as a family, it did not reciprocate,” she said.

“I’m glad that throughout this time I had my brother - we had each other - to check each other’s reality. And we realised that we cannot change them, what we can do is change ourselves and move out when we can,” she added.

It took Dina two years to rebuild her career in Kuala Lumpur, eventually achieving financial independence and moving out with a friend. Her brother followed suit, and they have both since found solace in creating their own chosen family.

"As nice as it was to be able to build my own safe space, the work doesn't stop, though," Dina said.

"I still have to keep myself in check and learn new systems that work for my home with my friend," she explained.

"Some of these things, whether we realise it or not, come from what was taught to us growing up. I acknowledge that I am in a privileged position to pay for therapy and have loving and understanding friends that give me space to unlearn old systems and build new ones."

Escaping the stigma of divorce

Another perspective came from Adam*, a 35-year-old administrative manager who, after a failed marriage, decided to live independently.

“Prior to that (getting married), even during my university phase, I was still staying at my parents' house- going back and forth... The marriage lasted for a good two years before we both amicably decided it wasn't a good idea, but that stint gave me the opportunity for me to make my own decisions — even the wrong ones. Decisions I wasn't even able to make when I was living in my parents' house,” he said.

Following his divorce, Adam temporarily returned to live with his mother, who still viewed him as "her youngest child".

Coming from an orthodox Muslim family, the stigma of divorce and societal expectations weighed heavily on him. The constant questioning from family members about his life choices became unbearable, pushing him to create a life separate from their judgments.

While Adam understood his mother's concerns, he felt consistently questioned in his decision-making, and decided that he needed to move out again.

“So, I lied. I told a chain of white lies, that my job requirement had changed, and I had to move out so that it would be easier for me to go to work. I even lied saying that my rent would've been paid for, and the monthly commitment would be manageable,” Adam said.

An Asian mother scolding her daughter
Being an adult and still getting treated like you're 15 by your parents can still put a strain on you. (Photo: Getty Images)

He found a sense of peace by moving in with his now-girlfriend, though Adam acknowledged that his current lifestyle might raise eyebrows in the eyes of an orthodox Muslim.

Despite maintaining daily calls and weekend visits to spend time with and assist his mother, Adam expressed doubt that his current way of living would be accepted by her.

"I'm practically living two different lives, wearing a different mask when I'm with my family and when I am not with my family – and it still bums me out every time I think about it," Adam said.

“But this is the life that I’ve chosen to continue living, and I’d rather her not know the full extent of me instead of me being in her house- not being at peace,” he said.

Family pressure and expectations

For this 27-year-old immigration consultant, who wanted to remain anonymous, moving out was to break free from familial pressures.

While she had rented a place in Kuala Lumpur during her university days, she moved back to her parents' house in Johor Bahru due to COVID. While looking for jobs in Johor Bahru, she continued to live with her parents as it was costly to move elsewhere on a fresh graduate's salary.

"I stayed with my parents for nearly about two years until I decided to move out. It was not easy to live with them because of our different lifestyles and expectations," she said.

Being the eldest daughter brought added responsibilities and expectations, making it challenging for her to prioritise her own desires.

"I always have to tiptoe around their feelings in everything I do and live life the way they wanted it to be, not how I want it to be," she said.

“I did not like it when I did not have control over my own life, and for that reason I decided to find a job in KL and moved out. I had to pick another city so it was easier to convince them.”

An Asian lady looking at her sulking mother
Sometimes it is also tough to meet your family's expectations all the time. (Photo: Getty Images)

A journey of rediscovery

For Mira, a 30-year-old working in sales in the logistics industry, her journey allowed her to rediscover herself after moving out at 22.

"My parents were strict, but it got even more insufferable after they performed their Hajj," she recalled.

“I’m a practising Muslim, but back then I hated how insufferably 'religious' and restrictive they were," Mira said. "I was just trying to unlearn and relearn Islam but because of them, I lost all interest altogether and was an agnostic. My mental health was down the drain and I was miserable."

The turning point came when Mira made the decision to move out, describing it as the best choice and crediting her 22-year-old self for "saving" them.

This newfound autonomy allowed Mira to rediscover herself, and she eventually found her way back to the faith. While she loves for her parents and understood the reasons for their behaviour, Mira also realised her inability to change them.

Instead, she decided to take control of aspects she could influence. This resulted in a significantly improved and lighter life, along with a positive impact on her relationship with her parents.

While Mira still doesn't "subscribe to the typical version of Islam", she also said she felt liberated.

“I still carry deep traumas with me but I'm learning to navigate through the triggers and whatnot. I wouldn’t trade my sense of autonomy and freedom for anything,” Mira added.

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