Opinion Adult children still at home? There's no blueprint for this time

Like so many parents in Ireland in a difficult housing market, Ruth Deasy had to share her home with her two grown sons.

IT’S 4 AM AND I’m standing wide-awake in my pyjamas on the landing, wondering how to stop it. I’m livid, having been woken, again, in the middle of the night.

Noisy, tipsy people are stumbling and giggling through my house in the darkness. How do I stop the party and how do we all escape with our dignity intact?

You don’t need to explain Tinder or nightclubs to me, I get it. So do most parents whose twenty-somethings are still living at home. We just never thought that dealing with our grown-up kids’ impromptu dates would be a required parenting skill.

If you’re reading this and under 30, there’s a fair chance you’re still living at home and you know exactly what I’m talking about. We parents know why you’re still here, or back here again, but there’s no script for this chapter of family life. We are making up the rules as we go along – especially for the dating thing.

Then there’s the thorny question of money – young people are living at home because rents are impossible or because it’s the only way to save for a house deposit.

What should they pay? Should they pay at all? And more to the point, how do you get it out of them? “Oh mum, I’ll pay it next month – I’m broke after the weekend/holiday/new laptop/gym fees”. And don’t get me started on household chores.

My two extra house guests

My sons and I got through the early years: lots of football with me in-goal, speed-cooking for hungry boys, wet Saturdays in the museum or watching movies. We survived the teenage years and all those heart-in-mouth moments learning about friendships, alcohol, CAO points, mental health, and the rest.

Gosh, it seems a long time ago now. Education finished, my adult sons are now out in the world, taking their place in society and earning a living. My work here is done, isn’t it? I’m free, right? Well, not quite.

My sons have both lived abroad for a year here, a couple of years there, and are now back in Ireland. For the last few years, like so many Irish young people, they were back home with Mum. How were we to navigate this and not ruin everything?

When you’re living together, it’s hard not to revert to your old roles. I still have the urge to mother them, and they still have the urge to take advantage of me. (Lads, you know it’s true.) It takes work to push beyond the old roles and the changes involved can be a stretch for everybody. Love is not enough – it needs to start with fairness and mutual respect.

Money, money, money

In its most concrete form that means we all have to contribute some cash to the household running costs. Parents will always chip in more because they love you and want to support you, but everyone needs to put something in the kitty, however small.

Chipping in something for running costs is the key to preserving dignity and a new adult relationship together. The unfairness of someone with an income who contributes little or nothing sours everything, no matter how much you love them.

In our house, we managed to work out a pro-rata arrangement we could all live with. The amounts got adjusted over time as work situations changed.

Enforcing it was another matter. This fell to me at first, although they started keeping tabs on each other quite quickly. Once the principle was accepted, it worked most of the time. They even started buying some of their own groceries and cooking – with the understanding that there would usually be a hot plate of something provided for anyone working late.

Learning the boundaries

Mutual respect also means giving each other space. Noisy impromptu parties at night? That’s a definite No. The girlfriend’s thing? Well, I really hated having some random stranger staying over in my house but had no problem with regular girlfriends doing so.

We ended up with that generally being the rule but obviously the other scenario wasn’t a sacking offence. They are grown men with a private life after all, and all this was hopefully temporary. For all they knew, I might appear in my dressing gown and call taxis for their guests.

On the flip side of this, I strenuously resisted their suggestion that I sign up for First Dates. I know they meant well, but No.

Making the transition from my giving the lads my approval to asking and giving each other advice as adults didn’t always come naturally, but we’re getting there.

Actually, it’s great. They know stuff, these other people. Useful things and some odd, wacko things too. We started going to the gym together and it has shown us each new sides to each other; me: fumbling and frustrated, them: patient and wise.

In turn, they have been surprised at how much I have learned since they were 21. It turns out I am quite useful for advice on tricky situations at work or with friends. But this story has a happy ending. The day finally came when they MOVED OUT.

And the cords were cut

They recently found a tiny flat and moved in together. Now they are having all those arguments about chores, cash and late-night visitors without me. We have a family WhatsApp group and message every day.

They come home once a week for a meal and a chat. We talk about politics, climate change, Trump, and much more and they give me insights I never thought of and make me howl with laughter.

They love to hear family history and stories and have developed an interest in home decorating and counting steps per day. They can still drive me mad.

We know the future has challenges as nothing stands still. But as Bill Murray’s character in Lost Translations says:

They learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk…and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.


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