The boomerang generation

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st HBO Girls poster

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One of the biggest shows in the US at the moment is HBOs Girls.

Lena Corner

When British stand-up comedian Nat Luurtsema hit the ripe old age of 28, she found herself living back in her old room in her parents’ house.

For six long months she languished amid the teen magazines and boy-band posters of her childhood bedroom, pretending to her parents that she didn’t smoke and traipsing around, like a reluctant toddler, after her mom in the supermarket.

“When I moved back I really felt I had messed up. None of my friends was there and I was stuck in with mom, dad and the cats,” she says.

“I was so lonely I started blogging about it. That turned out to be my saving grace. Loads of people started getting in touch saying they were in the same position; I even had e-mails from high-flying corporate managers saying they were back with mom. The response was amazing. I stumbled upon a zeitgeist.”

Nat, it soon became clear, was part of a “boomerang generation” – the group of young adults who have found themselves returning to the family nest due to a combination of spiralling property prices, student debt and the lack of job opportunities.

There is something of a preoccupation with the living arrangements of these boomerangers right now. One of the biggest shows in the US at the moment is HBO’s Girls, written by 25-year-old Lena Dunham, about four 20-somethings adrift in a sea of unpaid internships and sofa-surfing in New York.

Lena, incidentally, wrote most of it while living at home with her own mom and dad.

Then there’s the cumbersomely titled How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life – an entire sitcom built around the premise – which is being piloted. It’s not surprising, then, that Luurtsema’s blog was swiftly picked up by Hodder and turned into a book, entitled Cuckoo in the Nest.

According to the US Office for National Statistics, almost a third of men and a fifth of women aged 20 to 34 live at home with their parents. And according to a new Pew Research Centre report, as many as three in 10 are returning to the family nest – the highest figure since the 1950s.

It makes you wonder what impact this might have in the future. Are we heading for an era where adolescence stretches right through the twenties? Are these “kippers” – kids in parents’ pockets – going to be enjoying company in their bedrooms and nursing hangovers at breakfast while still getting their shirts washed and meals cooked? Or will it create a new family structure with more adult bonds between generations and a chance for some of your parents’ terrible memories of you as a stroppy teen to be extinguished?

According to parenting expert Sue Atkins, the nature of the experience is dictated by how well a new set of boundaries is established.

“Given the chance, these young adults will revert to being teenagers again, in that they tend to defer back to who they were when the first lived at home,” she says. “What parents need to do is say, ‘This is a new phase of your life now and it’s going to be different’. They have to sit down and have a conversation about them paying their way and what is acceptable and what is not. Then follow up on it and make sure they’re not taken for a ride.”

This is something Susannah Hamilton, 22, became aware of when she moved back into her parental home last year. “I definitely had to get used to a new adult relationship with my parents,” she says.

Yet it’s still been a difficult adjustment, as she realised when she came in after a few drinks, smashed one of her mother’s best plates, then tried creeping into her own room only to be caught by her mom.

“It is slightly awkward coming back late at night, because I have to get past their bedroom to get to mine – but apart from that it’s been fine. They think it’s quite amusing to see me hungover at breakfast.”

Then there are issues of privacy. Suzannah doesn’t currently have a boyfriend, so it’s not an issue, but at what stage is it okay to bring someone home?

James Julius, a 22-year-old part-time estate agent, who has moved back in with his parents while he saves for a deposit, says it’s a situation he finds embarrassing when meeting girls.

“What can you say? Can we go back to your place because I still live with my mom? I would never bring someone random back out of respect for my parents. Even with my ex-girlfriend, I was never that comfortable with her sleeping over and neither was she.”

He thinks it’s harder for men. “For some reason it seems fine for girls to live at home, but not for boys. A lot of my guy friends have moved out, but a number of girls haven’t. I think there are some quite old-fashioned attitudes around.”

Thirty-five-year-old Doug Clement, meanwhile, has had to put his sex life pretty much on hold since moving in with his mom in 2009.

“I’ve not had a girlfriend pretty much since I moved back and I think it’s definitely connected,” he says. “There were a couple of girls early on who weren’t that impressed by the fact that I was in my thirties and living at home. And I only want to bring them home if I really like them, so it’s tricky. Plus there’s the fact that mom is highly liable to embarrass me: she tends to call them by the wrong name – though not on purpose.”

Of course, there are upsides to being a boomeranger – there must be, otherwise so many people wouldn’t be doing it.

James Coveney, a 28-year-old police officer, has moved in with his mom , along with his girlfriend Michelle. He reckons it will enable them to save enough money over six months to put towards a deposit.

Another benefit is the bond Michelle has been able to form with James’s mom. “James does shift work, so he isn’t there most of the time,” says Michelle. “He is one of three boys, so his mom appreciates having another female around. The other day she said I’d become like a daughter to her.”

Matthew Harbridge, a 31-year-old teacher, has had a similar experience: once his relationship with his mother comprised one weekly, reluctant, monosyllabic phone conversation. Since moving back home, this has transformed into regular trips out to eat together and a proper adult relationship. “I found living with her when I was growing up quite difficult,” he says. “This is my second chance.”

It’s interesting that, whatever the circumstances, everyone interviewed had a firm moving out date set – usually within a year and a half – both for their own sanity and to avoid imposing on their parents.

For Luurtsema, it was around the six-month mark that she knew her time back home had to come to an end. There’s a moment in the book that says it all: she had just finished a gig and was hanging out backstage with some musicians when, absent-mindedly, she pulled from her bag a Tupperware box containing a packed lunch made by her mom.

“A heavy silence broke out, with undertones of pity,” she writes. Shortly after, she was gone.

“What’s interesting,” she concludes, “is that everyone has a different bond with their parents. You will have spent 30 years with these people, so you will have an incredibly complicated web of a relationship. All these tiny little resentments will have built up and things you have in common and things you don’t. They are without doubt the most complicated flatmates you will ever have.” – The Independent


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