Living with your parents ... the boomerang life

ACCORDING to the Census of 2011, 440,000 over-18s in Ireland live with their parents.

And 91,000 of those are over 30-years-old. The figure has spiralled since the downturn. And, according to Rowan Manahan, MD of Fortify Services, few of the returnees are happy.

“Going home is almost universally not their desire,” he says. “And it’s certainly not their parents’ desire, but economic necessity prevails. Many people have had to take a significantly lower paid job. Or they’ve moved back from abroad, and find they’re not as well qualified as their competitors. There’s a need to retrain.”

What happens to their relationships? “They don’t have one,” says Manahan. “You can’t have someone back for noisy and enthusiastic sex if your mum is in the next room.”

According to Gerry Hickey, a Dublin-based psychotherapist and counsellor, some couples resort to booking a hotel room. “There’s nowhere else to go for intimacy,” he says. “One couple went on holiday for two weeks. They hadn’t much money; they went to somewhere they’d never normally go, but they felt they had to get away.

“If they do bring their partner home, it can cause rows. They’re used to privacy, contentment and security, and all those things have gone. It’s tough on any relationship.”

Some parents have rules. If a boyfriend appears, he sleeps in the spare room. Others go further.

“One mother was so concerned about her daughter, that when she tried to bring her boyfriend home, he was stopped at the front door. And she was over 30.”

Sarah, name changed, was happy for her daughters to have their boyfriends in their room, once they were in steady relationships. Recently, one lived at home for a while, and her boyfriend often stayed over. But there was no embarrassing noise.

“If they had sex, they were extremely quiet,” says Sara. “We never heard a thing.”

Kate, now 26, moved home when she returned from Australia three years ago. Her boyfriend, Kevin, moved in too. They lasted there for four months. “It was really difficult,” she says. “When we first got home we were on a high, with a welcome home party, then you’re back into their rules, trying not to make too much noise.

“Kevin and I shared a very small room; there was nowhere for his stuff and he felt he was camping. It was hard. I’d have arguments with mum and Kevin would be drawn in. There was a lot of walking out late at night to cafes and pubs, just to put ourselves in a different space. I was studying; it was not ideal.”

Now renting with Kevin in Christchurch in Dublin, Kate has a good job. But if her circumstances changed, would she Boomerang back home again? “Never! I get on so well with my mum when we’re apart. When we live together we argue about the same silly things as when I was 16.”

Daniel Downey, 31, left Ireland during the Celtic Tiger. He lived in Australia, and Thailand, and when he returned to Ireland in 2009, he was in for a shock.

“I went home to Cavan to live with my mum and dad, and found myself unemployed for two years,” he says. “It was crippling. There was a sense of meaninglessness, and this affected my parents lives too.” Daniel had always had a good job. He hated relying on his parents financially, and felt a huge loss of pride.

“After six weeks I despaired of finding a job. I sat around the house, and sank into a depression, but after six months, a friend told me about community work. I helped set up community projects, and discovered that there’s more to work than money. Having that structure and occupation was everything.”

Home life improved too. But not until Daniel had talked things through with his parents. “I’d left home at 18, and realised for the new situation to work, we needed new rules,” he says. “I explained how house sharing had worked when I lived in Dublin, and that we took it in turns to cook and did our own laundry. My mother doled out the chores; I pulled my weight, and life was much better.”

Daniel’s girlfriend was then living in Japan. She’d visit for a month at a time. “My parents were fine with her sharing my room,” says Daniel, “but it’s a small house and it could be suffocating. I wasn’t driving because I couldn’t afford tax and insurance. We couldn’t afford to escape, and sometimes the weather makes it difficult to go outdoors.”

Last year Daniel acquired a job within the charity, as a coordinator. Within a few weeks, he moved into a rental house, and his girlfriend has now joined him there. What has Daniel learned from his ‘boomerang’ experience?

“That to make it work, you have to convince your parents to engage with you on an even level,” he says. “If they hadn’t, it wouldn’t have worked.”

Dorothy Neill would love to instil some kind of rota, now that her daughter, Jessica Maybury has moved home. “I’ve tried, but believe me it just doesn’t work,” she says. When Jessica left home at 23 to go to Galway to do a Masters, and live with her boyfriend, Dorothy was upset.

“I cried for hours,” she says. “She was my only child, and I thought, this is the end of my motherhood. And then, four years later when she came back, I cried again. “She’s a great girl, but she’s regressed. I’m back into my role of organising and washing, and I do get irritated. Jessica washes her own sheets and I say, ‘what about the rest of the washing.’

“I ask her to take her phone off the dinner table, which she feels is ridiculous. But it’s my house and my rules.”

Dorothy sympathises with her daughter, knowing its tough out there, economically. “And I would rather have her here, than emigrating,” she says. “When she was away, I never worried about her, and now, if she’s not home, I’m thinking, where is she?

As for Jessica, she feels discombobulated. “I split up with my boyfriend lately, and I couldn’t afford the rent on my own,” she says. “I’m doing an internship at the moment. I’m 27, it’s like going back to being 18. I’m trying to fit my whole house into my one room. Your self esteem takes a battering too. My clothes are washed, my meals are cooked, and my mum takes my shoes to the cobblers. I’m a writer, but my mum will come upstairs and say, ‘get off your computer and go outside.’

“I can’t afford a car. Sometimes I can’t afford to go out. Most of my friends are in a similar situation. We don’t feel properly grown up. My mum, at my age had me, and had a mortgage. I have no intention of having a relationship right now, but I have friends who try to have one, living at home. They say it’s strange.

“When I was away I felt like a grown-up, but now I appreciate having food cooked and my laundry done. If I moved out I’d miss that.”


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