BEWARE THE BOUNCE-BACK KIDS
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 ➤