TRUTHS HOME

When an adult child re­turns to live with mum and dad

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Front Page - He­len O’Cal­laghan re­ports

THE kids were gone but now they’re back. In their ab­sence, you re­fur­bished the empty nest, made one bed­room into a guest room, the other a home of­fice. You and your part­ner had early re­tire­ment on the hori­zon, maybe open­ing up your home for a spot of Airbnb so you could fund an ex­tended trip around the US. It was some­thing you dreamed of dur­ing the long slog of rais­ing chil­dren.

And now, your son, in his late 20s, out of home, and liv­ing in­de­pen­dently for 10 years, is back, priced out of the rental mar­ket and want­ing to save a de­posit to­wards buying his own place. And your daugh­ter, split from her part­ner and un­able to af­ford a place of her own, is back un­der your roof too.

It wasn’t meant to be like this, you moan — a sen­ti­ment shared by par­ents in many coun­tries as adult chil­dren make the so-called boomerang move, aka re­turn to their child­hood home. A study by Lon­don School of Eco­nomics (LSE) re­searchers, Re­turns home by chil­dren and changes in par­ents’ well­be­ing in Europe, points out that over the past half-cen­tury, in­ter­gen­er­a­tional co-res­i­dence had de­clined dra­mat­i­cally in Western coun­tries. “This pat­tern has re­cently al­tered and in some coun­tries in­ter­gen­er­a­tional co-res­i­dence has in­creased, a shift in­ter­preted as a fam­ily re­sponse to high un­em­ploy­ment rates, poor job prospects, and fi­nan­cial hard­ship among young adults,” it states.

In Ire­land, ac­cord­ing to CSO data, the num­ber of 1839-year-olds liv­ing with their par­ents stood at 413,727 in 2016, up al­most 14,000 on 2011 fig­ures. While there were al­most 32,000 fewer 30-34-year-olds liv­ing in Ire­land in 2016 than in 2011, al­most 4,000 more in this age group were liv­ing with their par­ents in 2016 than in 2011.

“We’ve al­ways had a sense of young adults hav­ing to make tough choices. In my era, a lot of kids had to em­i­grate — there was a sense the coun­try couldn’t pro­vide. To­day, it’s about the job not pro­vid­ing enough to fund ac­com­mo­da­tion,” says Frank Con­way, founder of fi­nan­cial ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme Money­whizz.

Faced with ex­or­bi­tant rents that de­liver a dou­ble fi­nan­cial whammy — young peo­ple strug­gle to af­ford rents that then make it im­pos­si­ble for them to save a de­posit to­wards a place of their own — there’s of­ten a “pro­longed de­lay in find­ing that fi­nal step of one’s own in­de­pen­dence”, says Con­way.

It’s a sit­u­a­tion that pulls par­ents down as much as it does the boomerang kid. The LSE re­search found par­ents’ qual­ity of life (‘feel­ings of con­trol, au­ton­omy, plea­sure, and self-real- isa­tion in ev­ery­day life’) de­creased sig­nif­i­cantly when an adult child moved back to an empty nest. This was re­gard­less of rea­son for their re­turn — though there was no ef­fect when other chil­dren still lived at home. Look­ing at par­ents in 17 coun­tries, the re­searchers fo­cused only on par­ents aged 50-75 to re­duce chances that home re­turn was driven by parental sup­port needs. The drop in qual­ity of life was sim­i­lar to the ef­fect of de­vel­op­ing an age-re­lated health lim­i­ta­tion, like dif­fi­culty walk­ing or get­ting dressed.

The re­search ex­plored the ef­fects of dif­fer­ent rea­sons for re­turn­ing home — un­em­ploy­ment, part­ner­ship break­down — in them­selves, dis­tress­ing to par­ents. Con­trol­ling for this, a child’s re­turn still causes sub­stan­tial de­cline in par­ents’ well­be­ing. The re­searchers con­clude: “Par­ents en­joy their in­de­pen­dence when chil­dren leave home. Re­fill­ing an empty nest may be re­garded as a vi­o­la­tion of this life course stage.”

Dr Marco Tosi, who wrote the pa­per along with Pro­fes­sor Emily Grundy, said: “When chil­dren leave the parental home, mar­i­tal re­la­tion­ships im­prove and par­ents find a new equilib­rium. They en­joy this stage in life, find­ing new hob­bies and ac­tiv­i­ties. When adult chil­dren move back, it’s a vi­o­la­tion of that equilib­rium.”

Prof Grundy says there’s a mis­con­cep­tion that par­ents, in an empty nest, are sit­ting around wait­ing for visits. “But par­ents move into an­other phase,” she says.

And empty-nesters may have higher ex­pec­ta­tions of this life pe­riod than had pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. “Far more [older] peo­ple are now used to tak­ing long hol­i­days abroad or hav­ing ac­tive holiday pur­suits.”

She points out that boomerang kids make in­roads on parental space — and peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions of space have got a lot more de­mand­ing. They’re much less tol­er­ant of hav­ing to share rooms or even bath­rooms. Plus they have more pos­ses­sions, so need more stor­age.

When adult kids re­turn, par­ents may feel they’ve failed in the par­ent­ing role, says Grundy. “Rightly or wrongly, par­ents al­ways feel how their child does re­flects on them. Par­ents want to be able to say their son/ daugh­ter is do­ing well and set­tled, rather than say­ing ‘it hasn’t worked out and they’re back home’.”

In this post-rais­ing-kids phase, par­ents ex­pect to have more free time and more fi­nan­cial freedom. And then it all goes ka­put — the kids are back, they’re adults now and don’t want any re­stric­tions placed on them. There can be big con­fu­sion about the new bound­aries needed in this sit­u­a­tion, says psy­chother­a­pist and re­la­tion­ship coun­sel­lor Ber­nadette Ryan.

“Par­ents are be­wil­dered about what their new role is. Adult chil­dren don’t have the same par­ent­ing re­quire­ments as young kids and teens. With the best will in the world, it can be dif­fi­cult to make it work — the two gen­er­a­tions have com­pletely dif­fer­ent needs.”

The re­turn home can be ex­pe­ri­enced by ev­ery­body as re­gres­sion, she says. “In an os­ten­si­bly adult house­hold, every­one re­verts back to type: Mum is in mum mode and the adult kid can be ex­pect­ing dad to give them lifts and mum to do the wash­ing. Yet, every­one has grown out of these roles.”

Age Ac­tion gets calls about the is­sue, but gen­er­ally when some­thing has gone wrong and there’s been a com­mu­ni­ca­tion break­down. “An adult child has moved back. The out­go­ings have in­creased. Maybe the older cou­ple didn’t have broad­band and now they do, but the adult child is re­fus­ing to make a con­tri­bu­tion to those bills,” says Justin Mo­ran, head of ad­vo­cacy and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Age Ac­tion.

He says the young per­son may well be mov­ing back in

dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances. “Maybe their chil­dren are com­ing too. This can cre­ate quite a num­ber of chal­lenges. The older cou­ple have had their house work­ing pretty much as they want and now they have to adapt to these changes.”

Con­way points to so­cioe­co­nomic con­sid­er­a­tions in­her­ent in boomerang moves. Who pays for ex­tra elec­tric­ity us­age and food costs? What about house in­sur­ance, home and con­tents cover? Adult kids might have ex­pen­sive gad­gets — are they pay­ing their share of ex­tra in­sur­ance cost? Can the young per­son pay their car in­sur­ance? This could be an ex­tra cou­ple of thou­sand euro a year for par­ents, money they’d ear­marked for home im­prove­ments.

“The chal­lenge for this gen­er­a­tion of par­ents may be: They gave to their own par­ents in the past — and now it’s flipped around again, and they’re the gen­er­a­tion that’s al­ways giv­ing,” says Con­way.

Does the re­turn­ing child pay rent? And what about par­ents who’d been set on early re­tire­ment and — to ad­dress the pre-pen­sion gap — wanted to avail of the rent-a-room scheme whereby they can earn €14,000 a year tax-free?

“This would con­sti­tute a form of lost in­come for par­ents if the re­turn­ing child isn’t pay­ing rent,” says Con­way, adding that ques­tions of ‘re­v­erse in­her­i­tance’ also come up.

“Par­ents say ‘I was go­ing to sup­port them any­way through my will — maybe it’s now they need that help­ing hand, at the very be­gin­ning of the process.’”

While some par­ents lack courage and/or skills to es­tab­lish some ‘money rules’ for the boomerang move, most will do so, says Con­way. “They see it as part of join­ing the adult club for the child,” he says.

A key rule might be: In re­turn for parental sup­port — al­low­ing them to live al­most rent-free in their home — boomerang kids must have the dis­ci­pline to save the de­posit to­wards a house buy.

Fam­ily ther­a­pist Anne McCor­mack finds boomerang moves are not given a lot of prior con­sid­er­a­tion.

“Ten­sions get high and peo­ple are think­ing ‘what have I got­ten my­self into?’”

She says it’s vi­tal to have an in­ter-gen­er­a­tional con­ver­sa­tion at the start with clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion about the ex­pec­ta­tions of each party. “This can be chal­leng­ing for par­ents who don’t want to give the im­pres­sion the child isn’t wel­come. But it’s not the same as when kids were young. Par­ents are at a dif­fer­ent stage now and have dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions. It’s re­ally im­por­tant not to feel bad about hav­ing that con­ver­sa­tion.”

McCor­mack rec­om­mends a con­ver­sa­tion akin to what you’d have if you were set­ting up a con­tract, with a pe­riod of review built in — ‘we’ll try this for six months/a year’. Es­tab­lish­ing ‘terms and con­di­tions’, she says, will off­set a lot of ten­sion. “It helps par­ents if they know this is a fi­nite sit­u­a­tion — ‘this is for two years and at the end, s/he will be able to move out and get their own place’.”

Ryan has ex­pe­ri­enced adult chil­dren liv­ing at home — one is off trav­el­ling now and she has just one at home. “It’s not as dif­fi­cult as it was. We’re slowly forg­ing a way to es­tab­lish new rules and live to­gether har­mo­niously but it’s not without its ups and downs.”

She says help­ing an adult child strive to­wards au­ton­omy while they’re back in the child­hood home is not ideal. “The ideal is they go away from fam­ily and es­tab­lish them­selves in­de­pen­dently. What’s most dif­fi­cult is let­ting them live their own lives, make their own mis­takes, when they’re right un­der the par­ents’ nose. It can be hard to re­sist the urge to make things right for them.”

Par­ents need to stand back, she says, which is eas­ier the more the par­ent is en­gaged in their own life. “If a par­ent doesn’t have a sense of pur­pose in their own life, they can in­ter­fere. Some feel it’s their right — ‘in my house my rules’ — so a bit of re­al­ism needs to come in. A key thing is re­spect. The adult child has to re­spect they’re liv­ing in the par­ents’ home and that par­ents have their own lives. Par­ents need to re­spect the child has their life as well.”

McCor­mack sees pros to boomerang moves if both par­ties can live to­gether har­mo­niously, if they’ve es­tab­lished rules and dealt with po­ten­tial ten­sions.

“Par­ent and adult child con­nec­tion can re­ally be strength­ened by shar­ing day-to-day life at this stage. If par­ents are sup­port­ive at a stage where the child has tran­si­tioned to adult­hood but isn’t yet able to be fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent, if the young per­son’s grate­ful for this, it can re­ally strengthen the bond. Hang­ing out to­gether and en­joy­ing each other’s com­pany — liv­ing with your child when they’re an adult — is a real op­por­tu­nity to get to know them in a dif­fer­ent way.”

Above all, en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence, says McCor­mack. “For most peo­ple, it’s short­lived, even if it goes on for a few years, so it’s good if peo­ple can en­joy it.”

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