Who wouldn’t want their grown-up kids living back at home? The answer, says Telegraph writer Judith Woods, is thousands of British parents.
Homewrecker. Intruder. The enemy within. If, like me, your immediate thoughts turn to that award-winning wildlife photograph of a tiny dunnock feeding a monstrous cuckoo chick, then you’re not entirely wrong.
But in this case, that same dynamic applies to a different species entirely: the homewreckers being a generation of human fledglings who leave and then abruptly return to the family nest, unemployed, broke or newly single (often all three) to Ruin Everything.
Not my words. Well they are my words, but frankly they’re a lot less brutal than the terminology used by researchers at the London School of Economics (LSE), who describe the negative impact returning children have on parents thus: “like suffering a disability”, “distressing” and a “violation of equilibrium”.
Flaming Nora! Who are these hideous young people? What are they doing that’s so awful? And why not just shut the curtains and change the locks?
Of course it’s not so simple; we’re hard-wired to protect our spawn, regardless of the emotional cost and the impact on the gold reserves at the Bank of Mum and Dad.
The major issue for parents is, surely, seeing their child in pain – whether your little one is four or 34, it is a lifetime commitment, and when they hurt, you hurt.
Of course it is natural to be distressed by the potential professional or personal issues that have seen them returning to you, tail between their legs. But the LSE says that’s not what drags parents down and causes them as much misery as an age-related illness.
The research, which examined the effects of boomerang children across Europe, determined that the greatest source of stress is loss of independence and their new quality of life.
When an adult child returns to a home only occupied by their parents, they suffer a dramatic reduction in “feelings of control, autonomy, pleasure and self-realisation in everyday life”.
That’s pretty alarming – but truthfully, what else can Generation Rent do? High house prices, poor wages and the burden of student debt is sentencing hundreds of thousands of millennials to an adolescent limbo well into their 30s.
Analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics by insurance company Aviva last year suggested that the number of young people aged between 25 and 34 who still live at home, has grown to 1.23 million. Of these, 835000 are men.
More depressing still; almost 100000 millennials who live with their parents think they will never move out – and that’s making no mention of a new crop of “doomerangers” who, in their 40s, come back to the family bosom after midlife love and work woes. That’s an awful lot of cuckoo-in-the-nest compromise from all parties.
The advice from behaviouralists and psychologists is to draw up ground rules — literally writing out terms and conditions — because we all fall into familiar roles when we’re back at home with our parents.
It’s why spouses are so shocked when they go to the in-laws for Christmas, watching in horror as the high-functioning 40-year-old mother or father of their children regresses into a sulky teenager.
A friend of mine has three children, aged from 25 to 31, who have been boomeranging for years; at one point all three sons were sleeping in their childhood beds. Now, two of them remain at home and between jobs.
Their mother describes herself as “surrendered”, if dismayed by the inflated grocery bills; according to a report by the mutual organisation OneFamily, adult children living at home cost their parents an average of £260 (R4275) a month.
Dad is less resigned; he is due to retire shortly and had planned that he and his wife would let their house for a year and use the proceeds to travel around South America. That ambition is now on hold.
“I don’t resent my sons being here,” he told me. “It would have been far worse if we’d already rented out the house and were in Bolivia; where would they have gone then? But it’s not easy because just when I thought I was getting my wife back, she’s fussing over her boys again.”
Again, fussing goes with the territory. But wisely, they have insisted their sons contribute to the household in between applying for jobs; they walk the dog, keep the garden tidy and wash dishes.
It’s far from ideal, but leavened with love and laughter, it works. Which, when you think about it, is the very definition of family life. – The Daily Telegraph