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Friday 20 September 2019

Irish mammy spiders keep tabs and start weaving new webs

Adult children who return to live at home can find themselves caught in the family cobweb, writes Niamh Horan

Four’s a crowd: Brendan Courtney, presenter of ‘This Crowded House’, with Andy and Daithi Kennedy, who are back living with their parents
Four’s a crowd: Brendan Courtney, presenter of ‘This Crowded House’, with Andy and Daithi Kennedy, who are back living with their parents
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Have you heard of 'Cobwebbing'? If you are one of almost half a million 'grown-ups' living with their parents, you might be unfamiliar with the term, yet painfully aware of the phenomenon.

TV presenter Brendan Courtney puts it succinctly: "It's that claustrophobic feeling when your mother tries to keep tabs on your social life when you move back into the family home."

He recognised the symptoms while researching his new TV series which follows the lives of 25 to 35-year-olds who are back in the family nest because they can't afford city rents or are saving for their first mortgage.

"I was that soldier," explains Brendan.

"When I was 36, I had just landed my first major gig presenting RTE's Off The Rails," he says. "I had a great job and I was really happy. But I couldn't find anywhere to live that I could afford. The world was in a bad state, so I had to return to my old box room and it was a nightmare.

"I remember being on The Late Late Show that year and Pat Kenny saying 'So you are living with your mammy now?' and I was scarlet! It was around 2008 and we were going into the height of the recession."

After for 10 years in London, it "felt really regressive" to be back in that box room. For his six-month stay he says "the over-riding feeling was gratitude", but his mother did tend to follow his movements.

"Mam was constantly texting to see what time I was coming home at. Parents will always be parents. I had lived in London for 10 years and the next minute my mother is asking what time are you home? I was like 'what are you talking about? Would you stop woman'," he laughs.

"All of the people we feature in the show report similar 'parental cobwebbing'. Will you be home for dinner? And they're like 'would you go away!' You kind of get tangled in their web."

With almost one in four Irish adults over 25 living in the family home, This Crowded House follows the journey of eight Irish families as their adult children try to figure out how to move out.

Brendan helps them explore their options in the tricky housing market, as well as helping them get on the right financial path to independent futures.

Another difficulty the 'Boomerang' generation are finding it difficult to navigate is conducting sexual relationships under their parents' roof.

His advice is simple: "The general consensus is: 'Don't wear white to your best friend's wedding and don't bring a shag home to your parents' house'. It's just gross," he laughs, "And it's kind of like when you realise your parents do it when you are a kid and you're banging your ears in absolute disgust."

Brendan also came across adult children who slipped back to childhood roles.

"I found myself siding with the parents a lot. People regress to their teenage years. But if you are going to live in someone else's house then clean up after yourself."

As for the parents' attitude towards their returning offspring, Brendan appreciated their honesty. "All the parents said, 'Yeah, I love them but I want my life back. I want my space back. I want my house back. I want them out!' And I was really refreshed by that because they are dead right."

As for the older generation making money out of their children, Brendan says it happens "very rarely". "Most of the parents seem to be nearly mortgage free or have paid off and they were all doing this short term. The sword of Damocles was hanging above them all. As much as they loved them, they wanted the kids to get out."

'This Crowded House' is on RTE2 on October 31 at 9.30pm

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