Thursday 17 October 2019

Katie Byrne: 'Whisper it, but some of us grown-ups actually like living at home'

Jennifer Lawrence (Ian West/PA)
Jennifer Lawrence (Ian West/PA)
‘Embraced’: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry with her mother, Doria Ragland, (left) at the launch of the cookbook. Photo: PA
Bradley Cooper with his Best Original Music Bafta (Ian West/PA)
Michael B. Jordan speaks onstage at the Cinema Vanguard Award Presented by Belvedere Vodka Honoring Michael B. Jordan during the 34th Santa Barbara International Film Festival at Arlington Theatre on February 7, 2019 in Santa Barbara, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for SBIFF)
Like mother, like daughter: Michelle Obama with mum Marian Robinson. The first granny is in Europe this week with the family.
Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars. Photo: Getty Images
Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Still living at home with your parents when you’re old enough to be a parent yourself? Well, you can at least take solace from the fact that you’re not alone.

According to a recent study, nearly a million more young adults in the UK are living with their parents than was the case two decades ago.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, nearly one in four adults over 25 are still living at home. It’s easy to make assumptions when we read statistics of this nature. We either decide that these young adults are availing of free rent while they save enough money for a mortgage deposit or, less generously, we write them off as middle-aged man-children.

Celebrities like Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence (pictured) and Michael B Jordan have ‘outed’ themselves as people who still live with their parents
Celebrities like Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence (pictured) and Michael B Jordan have ‘outed’ themselves as people who still live with their parents

They’re Will Ferrell shouting for “MEATLOAF!” in Wedding Crashers. They’re ‘mammoni’ — a term applied to the vast numbers of single Italian men whose mothers still cook their dinner, iron their socks and tell them how good-looking they are. They are, to use a much simpler term, losers.

Like it or not, we look at these living situations and decide that there simply must be an inequitable and unhealthy dynamic at play. And while this may well be the case in some households, it leads us to overlook another important cohort: the crowded households that are —  whisper it — happy and harmonious. Yes, really.

There are adult children living at home out of choice, not circumstance. They enjoy an adult relationship with their parents and they contribute towards rent/food/bills (as any self-respecting adult should). They’ve considered the alternatives, of course, but instead of helping a landlord get rich, they’d much rather keep the money in the family exchequer.

Their parents have considered the alternatives too, but — whisper it again — they enjoy having their adult children around. We all have ideas about the ‘right’ age for a person to leave their family home and start their own life, but it’s worth considering where these ideas came from. Historically speaking, the nuclear family is a relatively recent phenomenon and, depending on who you talk to, it’s a phenomenon that supports the capitalist system.

It wasn’t that long ago that the extended family was the norm, but we’re now so hell-bent on having our ‘own place’ that we’ve forgotten its many advantages. Researchers will tell you that multi-generational living is a support network that increases longevity, ‘social currency’ and economic well-being.

Sure, the Silicon Valley concept of the shared economy gives us a semblance of the collectivism that we crave, but the ugly truth is that the idealisation of the nuclear family has increased social isolation. Older parents are marginalised, while younger people are trapped in unhappy living situations because it seems better than the social shame of moving back home.

Yes, a mortgage is one marker of adulthood, but it is a truly mature person who can resist normative social influence and do what feels right rather than what looks right. Likewise, it’s a wise person who realises that every day spent with their parents is a day they’ll never regret. There is no ignoring the fact that the vast majority of the boomerang generation are victims of the housing crisis and are living at home out of circumstance rather than choice.

However, look closer and you’ll notice that multi-generational living by choice is rising alongside it. Grandparents play a vital role in the modern family; researchers, meanwhile, have established a clear link between the integration of young and old people and physical and emotional well-being.

There are more poster families too. Celebrities like Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael B Jordan have ‘outed’ themselves as people who still live with their parents. We’ve had a First Grandmother (Michelle Obama’s mother Marian Robinson) in the White House, and Doria Ragland will soon become the first grandparent actively involved in the upbringing of a Royal baby.

A cultural shift is occurring and, personally speaking, I’m right behind it. I spent some of my happiest days living as a ‘boomeranger’ and I’ve seen, first-hand, the advantages of intergenerational living. The nuclear family might be good for business but, in my humble opinion, the extended family is good for the soul.

Online Editors

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