Truth about our family values
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.