Worried about losing freedom if you move home as an adult? So are your parents
The adult child who moves home isn’t the only one losing their freedom – their parents lose it too
Research shows an adult child moving back in is as bad as developing a disability in terms of the reduction in quality of life for parents.
On those occasions when I had to spend extended periods of time at my parents’ home I couldn’t wait to return to Dublin and regain my freedom, such as it was. But I might have been missing half the equation.
By an “extended” period of time I mean anything more than a couple of nights in a row. And what was going on there that made me long to be back on the bus to Dublin?
Nothing – I grew up in a happy family and my parents made no excessive demands on me.
Still, I felt that the person I was in my parents’ house was less free to “be himself” than the person I was in Dublin. I wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary in Dublin but my need for freedom required living in my own space.
It was the same need that drove innumerable young people to leave home for bedsits that wouldn’t pass muster today. The authorities got rid of the bedsits because they couldn’t get their heads around the idea of living in a room with a bed, bockety sofa, cooker and wardrobe. They also didn’t get their heads around the idea that, for many of us, it represented freedom.
And so they removed from generations of young people the opportunity to get out from under the sway of their parents.
But I mentioned the other half of the equation. This was that the adult child who moves home isn’t the only one losing their freedom. Their parents lose it too.
You may have heard of recent research on this at the London School of Economics and Political Science. The researchers reported that when adult children move “home” their parents’ qualify of life falls.
That’s the other half of the equation. Parents enjoy the independence the departure of their children gives them and they feel the loss of it when the “child” moves back.
There I was assuming that parents sit beside fading silver-framed photographs of their children, pining for the return of the old days.
But I was wrong. The way the researchers put it is that junior moving back in is as bad as developing a disability in terms of the reduction in quality of life.
Which means that as I was breathing a sigh of relief while I headed down the road to the Dublin bus, my parents were breathing their own sigh of relief at getting their world back to themselves.
Parents do what they do because their children bring meaning to their lives
Research showing that parents’ quality of life falls when children are born and goes up again when they leave home has been around for a while. This latest research, into the effect of the return of the adult children, completes the picture.
But it isn’t all gloom.
Humans tend to be more motivated by the pursuit of meaning than of happiness in itself. If winning races means a lot to you then you will put yourself through the pain of getting up and out before everyone else to do a 10-mile run every day – you won’t feel deliriously happy while you’re doing it but it adds meaning to your life so you do it.
It’s the same with the many travails of parenthood. Parents don’t feel happy all the time but they do what they do because their children bring meaning, or an additional layer of meaning, to their lives.
So the adult child is – usually – welcome back even if both child and parents suffer a loss in their quality of life in the process.
That bit about bringing meaning to your parents' lives might be worth writing down, though, in case you ever need to quote it at them.
As for me, we haven’t reached the empty nest stage in our family and in the unlikely event that my children actually read my column I assure them that none of this applies to them.
After they move out they can move back as often as they like.
We promise to pine.
Padraig O’Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org, @PadraigOMorain) is accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His latest book is Mindfulness for Worriers. His daily mindfulness reminder is free by email.