Having grown-up children at home brings real benefits to the family

All sorts of advice is available to assist parents who are sharing their homes with their grown-up children

There are all sorts of unfair generalisations about adults who are still living at home. The comedy film, Failure to Launch featured an overgrown mammy’s boy who is reluctant to leave the comfort of the family nest. His parents hatch an elaborate plan to encourage him out the door into the world of adult independence.

In Italy, 66% of 18 to 34-year-olds are now living at home, a trend that is related to the state of its economy with high youth unemployment. This is a situation that is duplicated all over Europe, and not just in countries badly hit by recession. In fact, almost half of Europe’s young adults are living with their parents. The figures aren’t as high in Ireland, but a survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions in 2013 showed that just 32% of third level students were living away from home.

All sorts of advice is available to assist parents who are sharing their homes with their grown-up children. Sometimes, there’s an attempt to point the finger at the parents, especially mothers, as if they aren’t ready to accept that their babies have grown up and that their relationships and roles have evolved and changed. It’s assumed that some parents want to keep their children in a state of dependency and can’t accept that it’s time for them to move on. However, in practice, sharing a family home can bring many benefits, both financial and psychological. Instead of celebrating early independence as a key measure of advancement, we should focus instead on the support, love and care that living with one’s family provides.

My 27-year-old son moved home 18 months ago after a period away. The plans to convert his bedroom for a younger sibling had to be put on hold, but having him back has been a very positive experience. I could focus on how convenient it is to have a built-in-babysitter when my husband and I go on the rare weekend away, or the access I have to someone who will sort out my computer issues. However, it’s a lot more than that. Another adult in the home has added to the pool of shared family resources. We’re lucky to have someone who’ll get stuck in with the household chores, give the younger children an impromptu guitar performance and who’ll do a bit of DIY on his days off.

When problems arise with adult children living at home, it’s usually connected to differing expectations. An 18-year-old isn’t the same as an adult in their mid-twenties or thirties and arrangements will have to reflect that. I saw one expert advising parents that, with older adult children, the ‘not under my roof’ approach is not appropriate. I don’t completely agree with this advice. While we can’t lay down the law as if we were dealing with a young child, we still have the right to expect important family values and traditions to be respected and adhered to. An adult child enjoys certain benefits and perks which go hand-in-hand with living at home. Many young people who are living independently have quite a struggle to survive with increasing rents, bills and household charges. Parents are much more lenient than an inflexible landlord and there should be some appreciation of their generosity in what they accept as ‘rent’ or keep.

An informal arrangement suits many families, but it should never be a case of parents feeling guilty for expecting a contribution to the family finances. Usually, there will be an agreed set amount, but in some families, there is an agreement to share all bills and charges. This seems more suitable if an adult child is working full time, but even a student with a part time job learns a valuable lesson about sharing responsibilities by donating something.

A survey of young adults who are living at home found that 84% of their parents still do their laundry with many having the luxury of not having to tidy their bedrooms. Some young people did no food shopping and paid no rent. While, it’s lovely to help your children, as they grow and mature, there should be a sense of mutual support.

Reasonable arrangements ensure that a parent isn’t feeling overwhelmed and stuck in a pattern of behaviour that isn’t fair on the parent or the child. If there’s laundry to be done, everyone can take a turn, household chores should be shared and why shouldn’t a mature 21 or 22-year-old notice when bread or milk needs to be picked up?

The religious values of parents are important. It’s unacceptable to expect a parent to turn the blind eye to excessive drinking or drug taking leading to anti-social behaviour or to lower their standards as regards sleeping arrangements for visiting boyfriends or girlfriends. Younger siblings are very observant and will spot any inconsistency between parents’ words and their actions. They’re also very influenced by the behaviour of older brothers or sisters who they often look up to.

Parents, while setting limits, also need to respect privacy, giving their adult child space to be themselves and to live their lives as mature adults, not extensions of their parents. With flexibility, a fair amount of patience and love, and a ton of mutual appreciation, families can successfully accommodate the needs and requirements of both parents and their adult children who live under the same roof.