How to live with adult children

Fanny Blake / 26 April 2012

Adult children may return top live in the family home due to relationship, career or financial reasons. How to cope when they do.

In austerity Britain, one’s adult children – unless secure in a vocation such as medicine or law – are finding it increasingly hard to support themselves until well into their twenties. Many are expected to work at worst for nothing, or a pittance, exploited by employers who realise the competition to get those jobs is fierce. The kids know that too and are forced to exist on minimal incomes until such time as they get their break. In the meantime, where do they live? Answer: more often than not with their parents. So three or four years after you’ve redecorated their rooms and are feeling more positive about life without them, they’re back and reclaiming their place in the nest.

We currently have two sons at home, aged 23 and 27. It took a little while to realise that we had to navigate a new relationship. No longer schoolchildren, they are adults ready for an independent life. On one hand, it’s wonderful to have them at home again, on the other it took a little readjusting.

Liberty Hall is a fine theory but, in my experience, there’s less to be said for it in practice. Unless you’re relaxed about your home being used as a wardrobe, shoes everywhere, the wash basket overflowing, the same washing hanging up for weeks, and a constantly empty fridge, then some compromises have to be made.

To begin with, I nagged about tidy rooms, clean sheets until I realised that it was easier simply not to go there. They’re grown up. If they choose to live in a tip, then they can. The secret is to keep the bedroom door firmly closed and live in hope that things will improve.

After months of negotiation, we wash and iron our own clothes. However emptying the machine, hanging the washing up, and putting the dry clothes away are areas yet to be satisfactorily resolved.

If I make supper for four, my husband and I are left staring at the leftovers. If I cook for two, that will be the evening when we’re all in and there’s not enough. When I fill the fridge, the food’s often left uneaten. When I don’t, there are moans about how there’s never enough food in the house. Eating together is impossible to plan, so the kitchen’s a running canteen in use at all times of day and night.

The TV is not our own any more. But, to decree otherwise, seems draconian.

Having single children at home inevitably means making a decision as to whether or not their friends can stay. Going to the bathroom and discovering a half-naked young woman behind the door can be embarrassing at least, infuriating at worst. We reached a compromise, whereby we’re told when to expect any overnighters.

Then, there is the question of rent. Some parents charge rent to cover running costs. This may be necessary financially, but also has the benefit of teaching them the cost of living and how to manage their money. Another argument says we shouldn’t let them have it too easy or they’ll never be independent. Although we’ve attempted this route, we’ve never been able to enforce it. The boys’ circumstances can change from week to week. One week they’re flush, another they’re broke. We can’t charge one and not the other. Stalemate.

Gradually we’ve come round to a modus vivendi by which we live reasonably independently of one another. The tidy house is a thing of dreams. Instead, we rub along well until they move on.

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