The re­cent re­port that an adult child re­turn­ing to live at home makes par­ents’ lives mis­er­able rings re­sound­ingly true with many — self-con­fessed ‘trapped nester’ Sarah King in­cluded


When my 20-year-old son Sam an­nounced he was drop­ping out of univer­sity and mov­ing back home, my heart sank. I knew Sam’s plan for tak­ing up res­i­dence in his old bed­room was as bad an idea for him as it was for me. We would in­evitably re­vert, within weeks of shar­ing the same space, to our pre­vi­ous roles of scream­ing ban­shee and tru­cu­lent teenager. And I didn’t want to spend my late 50s shout­ing with frus­tra­tion – or see him re­gress­ing and los­ing sight of the man he had started to be­come.

I have been a sin­gle par­ent for most of Sam’s life, and we had only just be­gun to dis­cover the joys of in­de­pen­dence. I was trav­el­ling once more – with­out the added worry that in my ab­sence Sam would burn down the house.

Sam was study­ing com­puter cod­ing at univer­sity and shar­ing a house with friends. We were in­ter­act­ing as adults. He’d cooked din­ners for me, hosted my birth­day party and we cel­e­brated Christ­mas at his.

Now sud­denly he didn’t want to con­tinue his cod­ing course. His heart wasn’t in it and he’d fallen be­hind with his stud­ies, but he didn’t know what he wanted to do in­stead. It looked as though – for both of us – pos­si­bil­i­ties were about to con­tract in­stead of ex­pand. If Sam moved home, all I could see in my fu­ture was less money, less free­dom and more stress. I would be­come a trapped (as op­posed to empty) nester, my hopes and dreams sub­merged by, among other things, my son’s dirty laun­dry.

When Sam called to say he’d be turn­ing up with his rucksack of be­long­ings (and his gui­tar) that week­end, a sense of panic kept me awake. So it was a guilty relief to read that my mixed feel­ings were not unique – a re­cent study re­vealed that when an adult child re­turns to a home oc­cu­pied only by their mother and fa­ther, the par­ents ex­pe­ri­enced loss of ‘feel­ings of con­trol, au­ton­omy and plea­sure in ev­ery­day life’. This has ‘a sub­stan­tial ef­fect on their qual­ity of life, sim­i­lar to de­vel­op­ing an age-re­lated dis­abil­ity such as dif­fi­cul­ties with walk­ing’.

Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent Census statis­tics, nearly half a mil­lion young adults (over 18) in Ire­land are shar­ing a home with their par­ents. That’s an in­crease of nearly 5% on 2011 and it means a lot of trapped nesters. Men ac­counted for 58.6% – 268,944 – of those still liv­ing with their par­ents while women made up the re­main­ing 189,930. The to­tal still at home by the age of 25 was 23,571 and this fell to 11,299 by the age of 30.

There is no doubt that eco­nomics has played a big part: this is the first gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple to earn less than their par­ents; home own­er­ship is at a 30-year low, and rents are at an all-time high, plus there is an in­crease in the stu­dent dropout rate (largely be­cause of fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, ac­cord­ing to stu­dent unions).

How­ever, mar­i­tal ther­a­pist An­drew G Mar­shall be­lieves we can look much closer to home for the rea­sons many of us are trapped. ‘Par­ents have to look at them­selves,’ says Mar­shall. Many of us are pro­vid­ing what he calls ‘red car­pet par­ent­ing. If young adults have par­ents who give them the full works,’ he ar­gues, ‘such as three meals a day, free­dom to have part­ners and friends to stay, while dis­pens­ing cash, tea and sym­pa­thy, there is no in­cen­tive to leave home.’ In other words, we’ve made the rod for our own backs.

As Mar­shall lists the sins com­mit­ted by many par­ents – in­clud­ing fin­ish­ing their off­spring’s ed­u­ca­tional as­sign­ments (I’ve heard of par­ents stay­ing up all night to com­plete an es­say and feel­ing chuffed to get a 2:1!), fix­ing their fi­nan­cial messes, in­ter­fer­ing in re­la­tion­ships, com­ing to the res­cue when things go wrong at work or univer­sity and, hor­ror of hor­rors, be­ing Face­book friends – I re­alise I’m guilty as charged. No won­der Sam was find­ing it hard to be in­de­pen­dent when I con­stantly in­volve my­self in his life.

And not only do mol­ly­cod­dling par­ents stunt their chil­dren’s de­vel­op­ment, they cre­ate hard­ship for them­selves – both fi­nan­cially and emo­tion­ally. Michelle, 58, and her hus­band Anthony, 59, both so­lic­i­tors, have a five-bed­room house. Their son Adam, 20, and daugh­ter Lucy, 21, are away study­ing at univer­sity, and the cou­ple re­cently de­cided they would like to down­size and move closer to the city cen­tre, where go­ing out would be eas­ier. ‘There’s re­ally no need to be rat­tling round a house this size,’ says Michelle.

What they weren’t ex­pect­ing was the re­ac­tion this idea elicited from their adult chil­dren. ‘They were out­raged that we would con­sider sell­ing their child­hood home,’ she says. ‘They were plan­ning to come back after univer­sity and wanted ev­ery­thing to be the same.’

Anthony be­lieves that at­ti­tudes of young peo­ple have changed from his day. ‘Al­though fi­nances play a part, many young peo­ple – my own chil­dren in­cluded – see univer­sity as an ex­ten­sion of school, not as the start of their adult life. It’s a hia­tus un­til you re­turn home. Be­com­ing an in­de­pen­dent adult is start­ing later.’

Michelle con­tin­ues: ‘They don’t want to rough it. I lived in one grotty bed­sit after an­other. But why would they want to move out? It’s com­fort­able here.’

But it hasn’t made Michelle and Anthony’s lives so com­fort­able. ‘Be­cause of their re­ac­tion we have ➤

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