Parenting forever: How returns home by adult children negatively impact parents

  • Family
  • Sunday, 23 Jun 2024

Parents often have mixed feelings about their adult children lingering in the family home. — AFP

WHEN does the job of being a parent end? Some believe that you never stop behaving as a parent, while others feel that their role ends once their offspring reach adulthood.

But at a time when higher education is lasting longer and entry into the job market has become more precarious, parents often find themselves looking after their children long after they’ve come of age.

For Marie-France and Emmanuel Ballet de Coquereaumont, being a parent to adult children shouldn’t even be a thing. These two psychotherapists believe that parenthood is “a fixed-term job, not a permanent contract,” as they told Psychologies magazine in 2021.

However, this claim does not reflect the experience of many parents. The internet is full of testimonials from people, often in their 40s and 50s, who are still looking after their adult children. “My 24-year-old son moved back in with us five months ago. He has been driving my car and living with us for free while he tries to get his life together,” reads one post on Reddit.

This situation is far from unusual. In the United States, 57% of 18-24 year-olds were living with their parents in 2023, according to figures from the Pew Research Center.

This is more than in 1993 (53%), the previous year studied. This phenomenon is growing rapidly in the United States, but also in France. In 2020, an estimated 4.92 million adults were living at the family home, according to the Fondation Abbé-Pierre. The majority were aged between 18 and 24, although there was also a significant proportion of adults over 25.

Some of these young adults had never left the family nest, while others had returned after an initial departure. There can be many reasons for this, including financial insecurity, the shortage of affordable housing, financial difficulties, but also romantic separations or depression.

In recent years, these situations have become so frequent that sociologists have coined a term to describe the young adults who return to live with mum and dad. They call them “boomerang children.”

Parents often have mixed feelings at the thought of their adult children lingering in the family home. Most of them are happy to be able to help their children and spare themselves the anguish of the “empty nest.”

But, on the other hand, they don’t want the situation to drag on. Taking in an adult child is not without its difficulties. The rules of cohabitation are not the same as when the child was still under the parents’ legal responsibility. You have to adapt to a new rhythm of life and rethink your habits.

A source of friction

But if one point remains particularly thorny, it’s grown-up children’s contributions to the daily life of the household. On social networks, many parents complain about their adult children’s lack of initiative.

They lament the fact that their offspring don’t take care of household chores or contribute more to family expenses. Worse still, some children feel they don’t have to help with the housework at all.

“Young adults who have had a taste of freedom on their own no longer feel ‘household rules’ (like picking up after yourself, letting us know you aren’t coming home one night, the list goes on) apply to them. They are ‘grown’ so why should they answer to anyone?” explains TikToker Karen Lewis, aka @lollyoftwo, in one of her posts.

This can lead to misunderstandings and even tensions. In the long run, parents may feel that their well-being is being undermined by living with their adult child.

But unfortunately, it’s not just a feeling. In 2018, researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science studied the quality of life of parents aged 50 to 75 forced to welcome their offspring back into their homes, in 17 European countries.

They found that quality of life declined by an average of 0.8 points, a similar level to developing an age-related health limitation, such as having difficulty getting around or getting dressed.

“Returns home by adult children have negative implications for parents’ well-being,” study coauthor Dr Marco Tosi said in a statement at the time. “When children leave the parental home, marital relationships improve and parents find a new equilibrium. They enjoy this stage in life, finding new hobbies and activities. When adult children move back, it is a violation of that equilibrium.”

So how should you deal with this kind of situation? Should parents double-lock their doors so that their adult child isn’t tempted to move back into the family home, as a TikToker named @simplydeliciousdessertz humorously suggests in a video?

The issue is more complex than it seems. Many parents feel it is their duty to support their offspring, whatever the cost. Some decide to consult coaches specialising in parent-child relationships in adulthood for help, or to read books on the subject.

But, generally speaking, many resign themselves to waiting patiently for their child to gain their independence, all while hoping that they don’t become “full-time children,” a trend that recently emerged in China. – AFP Relaxnews

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