Boomerang Children

4th October 2019

Sky high property prices and the lure of home-cooking mean that more adults than ever before are still living with their parents. Heather Harris reports on the social phenomenon of…

A New York judge recently ordered 30-year-old Michael Rotondo to move out of his parent’s house. The ruling came after the court were shown the increasingly exasperated letters his parents sent him (presumably posting them under his bedroom door). “There are jobs available even with those with a poor work history like yours,” they wrote. “Get one!”

But this particular cuckoo is still refusing to fly his – no doubt very comfortable – nest and told the media that he planned to appeal.

‘Only in America’, I hear you cry. But, in fact, there are 4.5 million ‘boomerang children’ on our home shores. UK parents may not have gone to court to empty their nests but some have gone even further.

One local couple downsized to Devon when their third son finsihed university and clearly expected to move back in to the home where his two older brothers, aged 26 and 30, were still living. Another mother, Carol, has the perfect solution: “We’ve moved to a local village with no Wifi.” Her 22-year-old twins chose to stay in their student house in Leeds after graduating. “The lure of our warm house and home cooking entices them home regularly,” Carol explains, “but the magnetic attraction of super-fast broadband soon pulls them back up north.”

It is one of the great ironies of parenting – even if you don’t want them to go, you still worry they will never leave. When they finally do go you pat yourselves on the back, and then spent the rest of your lives trying to get hold of them.

The Office for National Statistics reported this year that around a quarter of young adults in Britain are living with their parents, the highest number since records began in 1996. And for boys (or should that be ‘men’?) aged 20-34 the figure is 32%.

If this upward trend continues, another 500,000 will fly back home in the next decade. And with sky high house property prices, eye-watering rent and travel costs showing no sign of decreasing, one hundred thousand say they seriously believe they will never be able to afford to move out.

But is this necessarily a bad thing? Not according to a recent study by the London School of Economics who in June revealed, rather surprisingly, that “Boomerang children who return to live with their parents after University can be good for families, leading to closer, more supportive relationships and increased contact between the generations.”

Try telling that to Robert’s mother at 8am when she’s trying to get into the bathroom and her son’s girlfriend is dying her hair, turning hair, sink and towels a vibrant orange and using all the hot water.

“Seriously, I can cope with my own children still living at home but it’s all the plus ones that make it rather overcrowded,” she tells me, although she also admits, grudgingly, that “Being a mother of three grown-up boys there is something nice about sharing my breakfast with a girl – as long as it’s one I recognise. We have a strict rule about one-night stands.”

That rule is echoed by 52-year-old school teacher Hazel who, along with her husband, Mick, shares her Hertfordshire house with four of their adult children. “There have to be boundaries,” she says. “We have a shoe cupboard by the front door and if they get home after we’ve gone to bed, we tell them to leave their shoes out, so in the morning I’m not creeping round their bedrooms checking that they’ve got home safe… As parents we are hard wired to listen to that key in the lock even if they’ve been living away for three years and we slept soundly in our beds despite having no idea where they were,” she says, then quickly corrects herself: “Actually I think Mums worry more.”

On air evidence from a Radio 5 Live phone-in did suggest that mothers cope better than fathers with having their adult children still living with them.

As Sarah, another mother of three boys, eloquently explains, “There is still that maternal biological bond between mother and child that can’t be broken, even when the child is six foot three and eats breakfast at 2pm”.

Recently retired banker David, from Beaconsfield, tells me he always anticipated a life of ‘freedom and travel’. Instead he finds himself spending his evenings playing golf with his 26-year-old and 24-year-old sons, who both work in London but can’t afford the cost of commuting let alone a flat.

“And now I just keep thinking I should make the most of it as I am on borrowed time. They won’t live with us for ever.”

He and his wife made a conscious decision not to charge them rent, as both boys have shown a determination to save money for a property deposit. David acknowledges that they are lucky to be in a financial position to support them.

Lloyds Bank calculated that running the ‘Hotel of Mum and Dad’ is a costly business. ‘Insurance costs can shoot up as well as household bills (especially electricity from all their technology) and it could be harder to borrow against your home.’

When Danielle moved back home to Preston, after getting a job as a primary school teacher, her parents’ home insurance premium rose by £200 a year because of extra possessions and added wear and tear. She pays just £50 a week in rent – about half what a regular lodger would pay.

“By the time she has completed her two years’ training, I’m hoping she will have enough for a deposit,” ” says her 74-year-old father, John. “The house is very untidy. We also have less privacy. But we love seeing our lovely daughter, and when she moves out, we will miss her.”

One option many parents adopt is to charge their little fledglings a nominal rent but put it in a high interest savings account which they can then use towards a future deposit. At least then their boomerang B&B with 24-hour maid service, a permanently full fridge, use of a car and on tap counselling sessions comes at some cost.

Hayley also recommends being creative when it comes to payment. “Every six weeks we go away from Thursday to Sunday on a last-minute deal. The kids then have to work it out so at least two of them are at home to walk the dog, drive the youngest around and do the shopping and cleaning ready for when we get back. It gives us the privacy we lack, saves on kennels etc and has meant their relationships are stronger than ever.”

Her friend, Wendy, has an even better idea. “When my graduate daughter moved back into the family home with her boyfriend, I decided to make the most of it and go travelling.”

It is definitely the case that for all the inevitable arguments and tensions, two generations living together can have practical and emotional benefits.

As the study Helicopter Parenting and Boomerang Children, based on interviews with 54 people – parents and graduate children living at home – concluded, “Parents are really doing a phenomenal amount for their children in terms of the different support they provide. It’s clear that parents are much closer to their children than was the case previously.”

As one father said of his daughter, “I don’t want the same distance to exist between her and me as existed between my parents and myself.”

So, whilst there may always be the odd Michael in society who strains the apron strings to their breaking point, it seems that the Hotel of Mum and Dad will continue to report maximum occupancy levels with positive reviews from both staff and guests – as long as they don’t use orange hair dye, and do remember to leave their shoes out at night.

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