Truth about our fam­ily val­ues

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - David By­ers

WHEN I left home to go to univer­sity in 1997, my lit­tle brother waited pa­tiently for a few months and then moved all of his things into my bed­room. Af­ter all, he cor­rectly rea­soned, I wasn’t com­ing back, and his old room was much too small for his decks. I didn’t mind, though. Leav­ing the fam­ily nest at 19 was what peo­ple did at that time. Not any more. In a de­vel­op­ment that will make over­pro­tec­tive Jewish moth­ers beam in­side, most stu­dents to­day ex­pect to re­turn home when they fin­ish univer­sity — and we’re even build­ing lit­tle houses in our back gar­dens for them. As ever, we jour­nal­ists have even thought of a new word for this so­cial phe­nom­e­non. We’re build­ing “graddy an­nexes” for our grad­u­ates, ap­par­ently.

Graddy an­nexe ex­perts (yes, they al­ready ex­ist) tell me there has been a 20 per cent rise in those be­ing built for boomerang twenty-some­things in the last year alone, as they strug­gle to af­ford their own homes. This means, of course, that wor­ried Gold­ers Green moth­ers can fi­nally keep an eye on their lit­tle Moishes to make sure they’re not sleep­ing with non-Jewish women.

But it’s not only graddy an­nexes that are on the rise: it turns out that Bri­tain is go­ing through a gen­eral an­nexe ob­ses­sion. Ex­ten­sion busi­ness Homelodge is con­struct­ing one an­nexe a week, com­pared with 10 per year in 2011. Some are be­ing built as home of­fices, some for au pairs. But most are still be­ing built to house frail mem­bers of the fam­ily — the tra­di­tional “granny an­nexes”.

The same is true for home ex­ten­sions in gen­eral: they’re go­ing up in record num­bers be­cause, thanks to soar­ing house prices, fewer fam­i­lies can af­ford to buy any­thing big­ger.

Con­ven­tional think­ing would have it that, so­cially, this is a back­ward step, right? Af­ter all, while our lucky baby boomer par­ents had gi­ant drive­ways, walk-in wardrobes, and room for a pony back in the 1980s, we’re all trip­ping over each other and feel­ing mis­er­able. And what’s more, those very same par­ents are now sell­ing their own houses and com­ing to live with us.

Ac­tu­ally, I think it might not be so ter­ri­ble. And I’m go­ing to quote ar­guably Bri­tain’s most con­de­scend­ing min­is­ter, Jeremy Hunt, to ex­plain why. In 2013, he tried to ex­plain — con­de­scend­ingly — how the acute el­derly care fund­ing cri­sis was ac­tu­ally our own fault. The health sec­re­tary, whose wife is Chi­nese, said he had been struck by the “rev­er­ence and re­spect” in Asian cul­tures for fam­ily el­ders, who were ex­pected to go and live with their chil­dren or grand­chil­dren when they be­came frail. The mes­sage? We ought to take bet­ter care of our par­ents and stop cart­ing them off to im­per­sonal, im­pos­si­bly cash-strapped care homes to live out their days. They de­serve bet­ter.

It is also time to ques­tion whether our chil­dren should be en­cour­aged quite so vig­or­ously to fly the nest and be self-suf­fi­cient? A grow­ing body of sta­tis­tics shows lev­els of de­pres­sion and lone­li­ness among teens and young adults soar­ing in the last decade. It’s just pos­si­ble that, by be­ing so keen on shov­el­ling our young­sters into some damp­in­fested bed­sit on their own at the age of 21, we’re ne­glect­ing our own parental du­ties.

Per­haps it’s also true, as some Asian cul­tures be­lieve, that rais­ing chil­dren in a multi-gen­er­a­tional ex­tended fam­ily, sur­rounded by loved ones, is ac­tu­ally what na­ture in­tended, in­stead of the Western way of split­ting up into our own lit­tle con­crete boxes.

Sure, car­ing is in­cred­i­bly hard. Sure, we like our free­dom. But maybe it’s what we’re meant to do. Maybe, just maybe, those Jewish moth­ers were right all along.

Should our chil­dren be en­cour­aged so vig­or­ously to leave?

David By­ers is as­sis­tant ed­i­tor (prop­erty and per­sonal fi­nance) at The Times.

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