HOW TO HELP THEM LEARN TO FLY SOLO

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we have put our plans on hold,’ ex­plains An­thony. ‘Michelle was go­ing to re­tire and I wanted to go part-time. But there is no way we can con­tem­plate do­ing that while we have this house.’

There is a cer­tain amount of fi­nan­cial frus­tra­tion for Claire, a teacher, and her hus­band John, a store man­ager, both 56. They live with Daniel, their 28-year-old son. ‘He will do his wash­ing – some­times,’ she says, ‘but then he throws it all in the tum­ble dryer even when it’s a hot day. He eats us out of house and home and is al­ways bor­row­ing money from us.’

A sur­vey by the in­sur­ance com­pany MetLife states that a quar­ter of Bri­tish par­ents over 50 have adult chil­dren liv­ing with them, 43 per cent of them with­out mak­ing any con­tri­bu­tion to house­hold ex­penses. The par­ents es­ti­mated that they were spend­ing an av­er­age of £72 a week on food and other house­hold bills di­rectly re­lated to their adult off­spring. Many par­ents con­tinue to sup­port their adult chil­dren fi­nan­cially – top­ping up wages, pay­ing off stu­dent loans, pro­vid­ing de­posits, etc. Sud­denly pen­sion pots, house eq­uity and sav­ings are dis­ap­pear­ing. Fast.

For Claire, though, the hard­est thing is the emo­tional stress. ‘I’m walk­ing on eggshells as Daniel is very volatile if things don’t go his own way. Then there’s shout­ing and even smash­ing things. He be­haves like a child, his room is a tip, he never clears up af­ter him­self. I’m for­ever res­cu­ing my cut­lery, crock­ery and glasses from his room. Yet he wants to be treated as an adult. This cre­ates a lot of fric­tion in the house and it’s not how John and I want to be liv­ing.

‘When Daniel left home for the sec­ond time, we dec­o­rated his room to use for guests, but then he lost his job and came back. Now even if he wasn’t here for the week­end I couldn’t let any­one stay in his room – it’s a pit – so we can’t have friends stay­ing over. We have less free­dom to go out as well, be­cause we have less money.’

How­ever, there are worse con­se­quences, says Mar­shall. ‘Liv­ing with adult chil­dren can be de­struc­tive for trapped nesters’ re­la­tion­ships. Lack of pri­vacy means the big­gest ca­su­alty is the par­ents’ sex lives – just when they were be­gin­ning to re­cover from years con­cen­trat­ing on the fam­ily – and the chil­dren can also take a lot of the emo­tional fo­cus a cou­ple should be giv­ing to each other again.’ You may even find your­selves squeezed out of your own space. One friend com­plains that her 20-some­thing daugh­ter and her boyfriend hog the liv­ing room sofa, so she and her hus­band have to watch films on a lap­top in the kitchen.

Nei­ther does hav­ing an adult child liv­ing at home do much for your chances if you are sin­gle and try­ing to date again, as 51-year-old Mag­gie has dis­cov­ered. Mag­gie was wid­owed five years ago, and when her daugh­ter Shan­non, 27, moved back home six months later, she was pleased to have the com­pany. ‘Then Shan­non moved out to live with a boyfriend and I started to get used to be­ing on my own and re­build­ing my life. Shan­non’s re­la­tion­ship broke down and she moved back in, then out again. But once she had a baby I thought she was well on the way to be­ing an in­de­pen­dent adult and mother.’

Mag­gie ap­plied for and was ac­cepted at art col­lege. ‘Ever since I was young I had wanted to paint, but life and hav­ing chil­dren got in the way. It felt as if now was my time. I’d even started in­ter­net dat­ing.’ But Mag­gie never put a foot in the door of the col­lege and no man ever crossed the thresh­old of her house. ‘Shan­non’s re­la­tion­ship broke down and once more she moved in with me. She needed child­care for her two-year-old, and sud­denly my dreams were on the back-burner again.’

That you would die for your chil­dren goes with­out say­ing, but we shouldn’t have to give up our lives just to make theirs eas­ier. So what is the so­lu­tion for trapped nesters and those who are in dan­ger of fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar path? I’ve known a num­ber of par­ents re­sort to ex­treme mea­sures. One dad, a sin­gle par­ent, felt the only way he could force his 22-year-old daugh­ter to be­come in­de­pen­dent was to get up and leave. He rented out their house and bought him­self a boat. She’s liv­ing with friends and he’s en­joy­ing his free­dom on a canal. He is thriv­ing; his daugh­ter is still adapt­ing.

Which is why, when Sam men­tioned com­ing home, he was bun­dled off to my brother in Aus­tralia be­fore you could say boomerang (gen­er­a­tion). I hoped it would give him a chance to con­tinue grow­ing with­out be­ing ma­rooned. My brother would not baby him in the way I would. Other friends try­ing to achieve a sim­i­lar re­sult have taken on mas­sive mort­gages to buy their stay-at-home off­spring their own prop­er­ties.

But not all of us have the fi­nan­cial means to push our kids out of the nest, so what else can we do? We can en­cour­age our ba­bies to fly (see left), but we must also look at our­selves. Mar­shall says, ‘You need to un­der­stand what the “hook” is for you in in­dulging your adult child.’ In my case, I re­alise that with Sam I have over­com­pen­sated for my own mother’s cold­ness. I’ve used overindul­gence to show how much I love him. Hope­fully, if I un­der­stand the hook, I’m half­way to let­ting him grow up. Oth­ers might be hooked on feel­ing younger when around their chil­dren, or on the sense that it gives them value to be needed. Of­ten the prob­lems of a trapped nester are the flip­side of the empty-nest syn­drome.

In his book It’s Not A Midlife Cri­sis, It’s An Op­por­tu­nity, Mar­shall ar­gues that your 40s and 50s are the time to dis­cover who you are, be­yond the role of par­ent. You need to be ask­ing your­self: what gives my life mean­ing? If you’re still run­ning around be­ing a cleaner, caterer and cashier for your prog­eny, you’ll never get the an­swers – or even have space to ask the ques­tions.

Sam re­cently flew back to Lon­don. He has started work in a restau­rant so that he can get his own place. I’m plan­ning a trip to Aus­tralia. We talk as adults with our own lives. In this nest, it re­ally is a case of what is good for the goose is good for the gosling. START YOUNG As soon as you can, make grow­ing up and be­com­ing in­de­pen­dent seem fun and ap­peal­ing. DON’T BE A DOOR­MAT If your home feels less like a ho­tel, your chil­dren are more likely to check out. DON’T LET THEM CON­TROL THE HOUSE If your off­spring live at home, make sure they’re fol­low­ing your rules. BE A CON­SUL­TANT, NOT A MAN­AGER Talk to your chil­dren like adults, ask ques­tions about how they see their fu­ture and ad­vise them on how they can achieve their goals. LOOK AT YOUR OWN MO­TI­VA­TIONS Are you sure it isn’t your fear of be­ing an empty nester that is sub­con­sciously en­cour­ag­ing them to stay at home? AN­A­LYSE WHAT YOU WANT FOR YOUR OWN LIFE When your chil­dren leave home, it should be seen as a new ex­cit­ing pe­riod for you, too. DON’T LIVE VI­CAR­I­OUSLY THROUGH YOUR CHIL­DREN They will leave even­tu­ally and you need to have your own life in place when they do.

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