They are the Boomerang Generation: middle-aged people who are forced to live with their parents again
What do a 39-year-old building surveyor, a 44-year-old insurance broker and a 53-year-old charity coordinator have in common? The answer, after two decades running families of their own, is that all have returned home to live with their parents.
The trend towards moving back in with parents after such a long gap is a new phenomenon of the 21st century. A study by the Office for National Statistics has revealed that among people aged 65 to 69 who had experienced a change in Back to Mum After All This Time their living arrangements, 17 per cent said it was because an adult son or daughter had moved back in. Only 2 per cent had moved in with children.
Jane Falkingham of the London School of Economics, a coauthor of the report, pinpointed soaring rates of relationship breakdown and growing career instability as the two main causes of what is being called the “Boomerang Generation”.
The prospect of having their well-earned space invaded by children they were happy to see settled elsewhere could be daunting for those reveling in their retirement. Having long overcome the empty-nest syndrome, they now have to negotiate Back to Mum After All This Time a new and unforeseen parental test.
So, can two generations forced back together make a go of it? Up to a point, says Angela Baker, a 53-year-old mother of four grown-up children who, two years ago, walked out on her marriage. Without a job to support an independent lifestyle, she had to move in with her parents. Home is now their six-bedroom house in Sussex, so space is not a problem. But in spite of advantages on both sides, it is by no means a smooth relationship.
Angela, now a charity coordinator, says: “My mother Back to Mum After All This Time is caring for my father, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and she was pleased to have someone around to help apart from my 37-year-old brother, who never left home. But there is a difficult area we haven’t quite resolved. She wants to know everything, which is hard – especially after so many years wanting to get away from that in my marriage. I don’t expect to be looked after. I do my share of the chores and give her half my salary. Unfortunately she doesn’t think it is enough, but I can’t Back to Mum After All This Time afford any more. This is not a situation I thought would happen, and it can feel rather humiliating.”
Jonathan Scales, a research fellow at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Essex University, believes that financial hardship sets off the “boomerang” effect. He predicts that in the long term, with an increasingly dismal economic outlook, the number of boomerang “children” will increase.
Going home may seem a heaven-sent solution, but Scales warns: “The psychological effect could be damaging unless the relationship moves on. It cannot be a parent-child anymore; it has to be on a more Back to Mum After All This Time equal footing or it will all go to pieces. That can be hard for parents, who want to continue having the most powerful say in how their home is run. It is equally hard for someone who is used to having their own space, status and wishes met to – in effect – become the child again.”
Angela’s mother, Tina, 78, admits that she likes to know where her middle-aged children are going, which can lead to arguments. “I know they are adults, but they live here and I sometimes feel excluded”, she says. “I love hearing about what they Back to Mum After All This Time are doing, who they are seeing. They are my children, aren’t they?” For Joyce and Jonathan Patterson, retired teachers from Riding Mill, Northumberland, the return of their 42-year-old daughter is not something they want to celebrate. “Alice came back needing a refuge nine months ago and she is welcome,” says Mrs. Patterson. “Our granddaughter is here too. We love them, but it is a strain financially and emotionally. There is also uncertainty about their future – none of us knows how long this situation is going to last.”
On the other hand, for a parent Back to Mum After All This Time living on his or her own, the return of a grown-up child can be a godsend. Charles Parker, 44, an insurance broker with two children at university, rented a Pimlico townhouse when his marriage broke up, but could not stand the loneliness and the exhaustion of caring for himself. A year ago he moved in with his widowed mother in Henley-on-Thames. In doing so he has created a fresh problem. “She has now found a new lease of life caring for me,” he says. “The idea of getting my own place again is becoming more difficult. I don’t Back to Mum After All This Time want to hurt her.”
But for every Charles with a financial choice, there is John with no choice at all. With a failed marriage behind him, the 39-year-old building surveyor from Hastings with three children, aged 18, 16 and 12 to support, has no option but to live with his parents.
His mother, Christine Edwards, 58, while sad that her son’s marriage seems to be over, is glad she can be supportive. But she knows that John’s 58-year-old father, Peter, is unhappy with the arrangement.
“He likes it to be just me and him,” says Christine. “We had ten years Back to Mum After All This Time on our own after they all left. But then you also have to support your children. It is the weekends when my husband feels it most. But it isn’t for ever and John is no trouble.”
“My father doesn’t say anything, but I know he thinks it’s wrong I am back,” John says. “I understand. After seeing all five of us off, this was going to be ‘their’ time. I just can’t afford anywhere else to live. I earn £23,000 a year, pay for my family’s upkeep and give my mother £100 a month Back to Mum After All This Time. There is nothing left.”
John joined a self-help group, Aquila, whose aim is to help people who are separated and divorced to get back on their feet. “I sometimes wonder how I ended up like this,” he says.
“You don’t expect to leave home full of plans and hopes and 20 years down the line find yourself back in your old room playing music and trying not to annoy your dad.”