Parents with adult children at home: ‘I’m their mother in this house. I don’t get to be myself yet’

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Ireland’s housing crisis is having far-reaching ripple effects on family life over many generations, with some having to stay in the role of hands-on parent for longer than expected

Last week, we spoke to five people in their 30s who were forced to live with their parents due to Ireland’s housing crisis and the exorbitant cost of living. Here, we speak to several parents whose adult children are still living with them to explore how their own plans, relationships, finances and sense of self have been impacted by the housing crisis.

Madeleine Hellier is a stained glass artist and teacher who lives in Marino with her husband Yann and their children – 25-year-old Aisling, 22-year-old Aoife, and 17-year-old twins Charlotte and Théo. For Madeleine, when her eldest daughter Aisling moved out a couple of years ago to rented accommodation, it was the beginning of a long-assumed life plan. “There was an assumption that we’d get married, we’d have children, they’d grow up, they’d move out, I would cry, and that would be it. And Aisling did move out – and then moved home, saying: ‘Do you know how much food costs?’”

The cost of living was eating into Aisling’s hard-earned savings, making it difficult for her to imagine being able to afford her own home. As many of her close friends moved to Australia, Aisling struggled to figure out how she could live as an independent adult without moving thousands of kilometres away from her family. She needed her own space – and so did all the other family members. Madeleine often works on her beautiful glass projects at home, and Aoife is also an aspiring artist who needs space to think and create. Charlotte and Théo had shared a room as children, but as they became teenagers, they also needed their own space. When Aisling returned, it was clear that the family home, which had been perfect for two parents and their children when young, did not provide enough space for four adults and two teenagers to live in comfortably.

This generation is the first generation I think that’s worse off than the generation before, and it’s deeply unfair

—  Madeleine

An often unspoken reality of the housing crisis is that as children living at home grow into adults, physical space requirements grow with them. As adults living together try to navigate their own lives, their needs often eclipse the physical confines of box rooms and shared living spaces. You would not need to explain this to Aisling, who is working towards getting her estate agent’s licence. “The irony,” says her mother, drily. “She always says she’s going to have a licence to sell stuff she’s never going to be able to buy.”


The family needed a solution that would provide more space and privacy for their growing children, while also accommodating visits from Aisling and Aoife’s long-term boyfriends, and ensure that Madeleine and Yann had some space for themselves, too.

“We have a big, 100ft garden, and so we said that between the adults – Aisling, myself and my husband – we would all buy a cabin and she could live in it,” Madeleine says.

“We did it properly; it’s a one-room studio with a shower, and it’s properly kitted out with full insulation and tiles. It cost about €30,000 – she paid €15,000, we paid €15,000. The idea was that she would pay off her credit union loan and stay there as long as she needed. When she moves out it will become an office or a glass school for me. So it’s future-proofed for everybody. She’ll be in college for another two years and her credit union loan will be paid off then.”

Coming from a creative family, Madeleine is hyper-aware of the unfair pressure placed on young people by the housing crisis, and how it can stifle young people’s ability to pursue their passions. Her sister, Claire, is also an artist, and was only able to afford a house when their mother died.

An often unspoken reality of the housing crisis is that as children living at home grow into adults, physical space requirements grow with them

“As an artist, it’s almost impossible to get a mortgage,” Madeleine says, “so I was looking at it through the lens of Claire, and the lens of Aisling, and watching all these young people move to Australia, and thinking, ‘There actually is no other way’. This generation is the first generation I think that’s worse off than the generation before, and it’s deeply unfair.”

Madeleine and Yann know the housing crisis is not their children’s fault, and are determined to support them for as long as necessary.

“We have always said that money and housing and all that should come secondary to what you absolutely love. Vicariously, I think I should have always been an artist, and I wish my mother had said: ‘Why don’t you just follow the thing you should have been?’ Instead, I work for the public sector and have for the last 35 years, and on the side I do my artistic stuff. But I should have been an artist. I never want [my kids] making that choice,” Madeleine says.

Marie is 72 and her two daughters are in their late 30s. Both moved back in with Marie for various periods due to illness, Covid lockdowns and relationship break-ups. During these vulnerable times, when her daughters needed to focus on healing and forming a new life plan, moving home was far preferable to paying astronomical rents to live alone or with strangers.

“The housing crisis has had an enormous impact on this generation, people from all classes, except for those who are very rich. I was a teacher and I could buy my own house. I didn’t have loads of money, but I was able to do it. Now it’s out of the question for so many. It’s created a very uncertain, unstable existence for parents and children,” Marie says.

While Marie has always been happy to help her daughters, her experience highlights the layered, double-ended responsibility faced my many people whose adult children still live with them – being a carer for both adult children and elderly parents.

I’m going to try find that space within myself that I haven’t been able to find up to now

—  Marie

“My mother is elderly, so I’ve been in the role of caring at both ends,” she says. “I do think it is has prevented me from looking at my own life in a way that would let me make decisions about how I want to live. Of course it’s family, but you’re doing a lot of caring and thinking about everyone else,” she says.

Much of this care work is still deeply gendered. “Parents are living longer, so I see more women in their 70s who are looking after parents, and it can be a very difficult thing. And then sometimes you’re also a grandparent, and there are grandchildren who need to be minded. There are a lot of single women my age doing a lot of work for [multiple] generations, sometimes living with all generations, and it can be hard and lonely.”

An often unspoken reality of the housing crisis is that as children living at home grow into adults, physical space requirements grow with them

Both of Marie’s daughters have now moved out after several years of living at home. Marie is embracing the opportunity to make her own plans and focus on what fulfils her as a person, not simply as a mother or daughter. She has “the energy of someone in their 60s” and is planning on travelling. “I am beginning to do that, I’m going away now for months on end! I’m going to try find that space within myself that I haven’t been able to find up to now,” Marie says.

Such freedom still seems far off for 65-year-old Teresa, who lives in Dublin with her son Liam and daughter Róisín. Both college graduates, Liam and Róisín have struggled to make enough money to live independently in Dublin, but fear their career prospects and social supports would suffer if they moved outside of the capital.

Over a decade ago, Teresa had a difficult separation from her husband. Neither Teresa nor her children are in contact with him now.

“The separation really impacted them,” Teresa says of her children, “and it came out in different ways. Liam had a lot of anger and Róisín was depressed. Living at home, there was no space from the memories. It caused a lot of grief for everyone.” Being forced to live at home into their 30s has had an infantilising effect on them both, Teresa says. While she loves her children deeply, she has found the lack of space from them difficult, too.

There’s one generation who can’t grow into adulthood, and one generation who can’t stop being parents

—  Teresa

“There were a lot of issues that I think they would have had to confront if they were living on their own or with other people,” Teresa says. “Living with their mam, they kind of have had permission to stay angry, and there has been a lot of teenage behaviour. There have been times they were upset and would get into shouting matches with me and each other, or they’d just leave the house a mess and expect me to pick up after them.”

Teresa was more willing to be understanding and give her children time to heal while they were in their 20s, but admits that now she feels frustrated and stifled. “When you’re young, you almost don’t think of your parents as people,” she says, “but then you move out and grow up and realise all they’ve done for you. That’s natural – it takes living on your own to realise what it takes to run a household or raise a family. But I feel like they haven’t had that with me. They forget that I was married to him, I suffered too, and now I’ve been dealing with their emotions for 10 years on top of that, with no space to myself.”

Teresa tried going on a few dates over the years but says a new relationship won’t be possible until her children move out. “I’m their mother, and I’m his ex-wife,” she says. “That’s who I am in this house. I don’t get to be myself yet. It’s really hard.”

Teresa is determined to continue to support her family, but feels the experiences of people her age with adult children still living with them are not being acknowledged or considered. “There’s one generation who can’t grow into adulthood, and one generation who can’t stop being parents,” she says. “This isn’t how any of us thought this stage of our life would be.”

Some names have been changed for the sake of privacy

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly column in the Magazine answering readers' queries about sex and relationships