Thursday 27 October 2016

Mary Kenny: boomerang kids? yes please!

Crabbed youth and age CAN sometimes live together

Published 15/05/2016 | 02:30

Mary Kenny
Mary Kenny

The hills are alive - all over Europe - with complaints about adult offspring still living with their parents. A survey of 28 European countries found that on average, 48pc of those between 20 and 35 are still living in the family home: in Italy, it's an extraordinary 65pc (and has been up to 79pc in recent years).

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One Italian father took his 28-year-old son to court in an effort to get him legally evicted: the lad was in the leisurely pursuit of ever more courses at Bologna University. The court turned the father down, and ruled that, as a divorced parent, he was enjoined to continue supporting his offspring until the said son's career aspirations were fulfilled.

Well, Italy has always been solid on family values!

And now they have a new word for grown offspring who continue to live at home: bamboccioni. The English language has sprouted names for the same - "boomerang" kids (they go away and come back) or "Kippers" (Kids in Parents' Pockets, Eroding Retirement Savings). There is also the "Bank of Mum and Dad" - a recent survey in Britain showed that up to a third of the 20-34 generation rely on this source for getting started on their own property ladder, or for loans and gifts for getting launched in life.

Yet I would offer an alternative acronym for these changing social arrangements: GLISH - "Generations Living In Serene Harmony". While the economists have claimed that the adult offspring living with older parents is all down to economic circumstances, the sociologists have pointed out that there is more inter-generational ease these days. Parents don't try to boss or control their sons and daughters in the way they used to - think of JB Keane's Big Maggie, in which the oppressed adult offspring are still under the iron thumb of the ferocious matriarch - and youngsters don't see the need to rebel against their parents' values so much either. There is, in effect, much more generational harmony.

I share a house with my elder son, and on many levels it's a practical, sensible and companionable arrangement. I won't say there are no problems, because wherever there's a shared living space, there will be problems: anyone who has shared a flat with others knows that there are always conflicts of habit and personality. (I once shared a flat with four or five airline stewardesses - there were rotating flatmates - and there seemed to be an awful lot of arguments about whose turn it was to stock the fridge.)

Marriage, or co-habitation, can also be a battlefield over domestic matters. Everybody has a habit, or a failing, that can irritate, or even madden, those they live with - ask anyone who has experienced convent or monastery life if one of their fellow inmates doesn't sometimes drive them around the bend.

Yet there's a lot to be said on the plus side. I've always thought I'd be quite content to live alone: I like spending time alone, love going to the cinema alone, and have no problem taking a holiday alone. But I'm not so sure, any more, that I really would like to live alone on a permanent basis. It's very nice to come home to a family member, share the experiences of the day, talk about the cat's friskiness - she goes very unpredictable in the springtime - and share the worries of why the radiators seem to need attention, or if the grass needs cutting in the small garden.

And if, on the whole, you get along well with the family member who shares your living space, why disparage it? Granted, for some families, the boomerang situation is a headache, and some parents despair that their kidults will never move out: but that's not the case for everyone. A friend of mine, a widow like myself, whose son also lives with her, says: "Aren't we lucky to have someone in the house to whom we can talk to at the end of the day?"

The inter-generational exchange is rewarding, anyway. He explains to me some of the innovative stuff that goes on with the internet (Snapchat: Instagram: Bitmojis, and he set up Twitter for me), while I talk to him about having been in Paris while Sartre and De Beauvoir were still smoking cigarettes at their existential cafés, or how great-uncle Poppa Conroy once sold a heifer at Galway fair and on an impulse took a boat to Spain on the proceeds.

"Am I repeating myself?" I sometimes ask. "Yes, Mother," he might reply, patiently: though old family lore sometimes bears repetition.

My main concern would be that, if I get too old and decrepit, I might become more of a burden than a companion. Such things do occur: and I have in mind a good daughter who cares for her mother, where the Mammy is now showing signs of mental decline. For some of us, it's not the pressure of the kids leaving home that bugs us: it's the worry that we, the parent, may take leave of our senses.

As with all house or flat-sharing, inter-generational living calls for tolerance, discretion and even manners. Also a certain amount of space. An absolute imperative is two television sets. This sounds a bit spoilt-first-worldish, but you've got to be able to choose your own TV programmes, and lurid sex scenes, obligatory in contemporary screen drama, are never suitable for inter-generational viewing.

GLISH won't apply to everyone. But some choose it freely. In his 40s, Jean-Paul Sartre, the philosopher who considered existential 'autonomy' the be-all and end-all, went to live with his mother.


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