Kit Hesketh-Harvey explains why the 'boomerang generation' keep on coming back to mum and dad – and offers a survival guide for those who'd rather they didn't.
Just look at the property section of this website. Oh, you already did? Real attention-grabbers. Enormous houses, up and down the kingdom, with ancillary accommodation, lodges, cottages, barns, annexes, staff wings and attics for conversion. Touch them, stroke them!
Surveys reveal — oh, you don’t hide from our boys — that you, dear reader, have a decent chance of having benefitted from the boom in UK property prices that began in the 1980s. You never dreamed, did you, that the equity in your place would increase 20-fold? I didn’t. Face it — we done good. However, now, the chickens are coming home to roost. Literally.
“The moment they left for uni, we piled black dustbin bags full of clothes onto their beds and turned off the radiators. But whaddya know? The kids came back.”
We did as we were done by, expecting our issue to Stand On Their Own Two Feet. We kicked them out. We made their rooms unwelcoming shrines to permanent sixth-formhood. School-leaving photos remained unframed, art projects were left in mortifying view. Empty Jägermeister bottles and souvenirs of God-knows-what rite of passage gathered eloquent dust. The moment they left for uni, we piled black dustbin bags full of clothes onto their beds and turned off the radiators.
But whaddya know? The kids came back.
The boomerang generation, they’ve been called. They have no choice. Back in the day, we could buy our own place for three years’ salary. Nowadays, that wouldn’t meet the mortgage deposit. The latest batch has nowhere else to call home.
I was luckier than most: I also garnered a holiday home and a London foothold, of sorts. I can’t get into either. Both are being squatted in, either by my children or their acolytes. We’ve triggered Article 50, but they’ve proved Remainers.
“We should hand half to the kids now, to buy their own shoeboxes, and swan off on a cruise with the rest. If we don’t, inheritance taxes will decimate the profit.”
The properties over which we drool were built for three times the number of occupants. Households bundled together the generations. It was the 1960s — our vintage — that changed things. Extended family, filial obligation, the war effort, all jettisoned in the name of independence, individuality and the great god privacy. Building land was plentiful and larger residences could be divided into flats. Now, inevitably, the supply has dried up.
Clearly, my generation should be downsizing, releasing equity that we never dreamed of acquiring and bedrooms that we don’t need. We should hand half to the kids now, to buy their own shoeboxes, and swan off on a cruise with the rest. If we don’t, inheritance taxes will decimate the profit.
However, downsizing is traumatic. It’s an emotional wrench, moving and taking all those art projects to the dump.
You’ve spent two decades as a slave to your children. Why shouldn’t you have a couple more, finally to enjoy the place that you’ve worked so hard to pay for? I quite agree, so here are half-a-dozen possible ways to throw the boomerang right back with an unarguable excuse:
‘We’re doing Airbnb’
Everybody’s doing it. Turn that nursery floor into a boarding house or even do an entire house swap! Jet-lagged Canadians appearing for breakfast at 5am… nyah.
‘Poor Aunt Jane is coming to stay’
She gave a lifetime of dedication to the Moonies or to driftwood painting in the Galápagos Islands and, now, Brexit means that she has to come home or forfeit her pension. (Then again, it’s blindingly obvious why she never managed to persuade anybody to live with her.)
‘We’re taking in some refugees’
This one really is worthwhile. Your state-of-the-art, privately educated, university degreed, socially networked layabout on his third gap year or a family of freezing Syrian refugees with nothing but the clothes they stand up in? It’s a no-brainer.
‘Surely you know I always wanted a train set?’
A sudden passion for model trains. An entire roomful would cost no more to set up than your child’s friends’ weekly alcohol consumption.
‘It’s the council, dear’
It’s a period property. We neglected the wear and tear in order to pay for your school skiing trips. I’m awfully sorry, darling, but the council has condemned your bedroom as unfit for human habitation.
‘We’re all allowed to have a little fun…’
And should all of those fail, you’ve surely read Fifty Shades of Grey? Your mother has decided that she wants a Red Room of Pain.
Alternatively, let us consider the unspeakable (unspeakable merely for the past 40 or so years of social history and, even then, only in the First World). It’s been thrust upon us, but the intergenerational household might be back for good.
Deep breath. Is it really so dreadful if everybody does move back in? Chimps manage it. Consider the financial advantages: no more hundreds of thousands of pounds of family capital burning as offerings upon the altar of… what? Privacy? Loneliness? Fewer assaults upon income? The multiple Council Tax, holiday cover, kennels, cars, nannies, broadband, newspapers, wardens, gardening help, taxis, water rates, carers, someone to help you move that ruddy sideboard? The — God bless us, everyone — two grand a week in care-home fees?
And what of our environmental irresponsibility? Dual shopping trips, heating bills, new-builds, petrol-swigging visits to salve our concern? Why not instead move en masse to a property whose location, size and facilities fit all, if what fits all isn’t what you’ve already got?
“Instead of guilt, gilt. Instead of phonecalls, conversation. Instead of independence, support. And instead of privacy, love.”
The more units you throw into the pot, the more bang you get for your buck. Two houses can equal one castle. Granny-annexes sail through planning nowadays. Privacy is possible, what with headphones, insulation and the internet. Finally, should you manage to avoid being murdered by your own children for seven years, Inheritance Tax is sidestepped altogether.
Rules need to be pre-negotiated and private spaces defined. (Chin up: Grandpa might actually enjoy South Park.) Rent, bills and care rosters must be scrupulously reviewed in quarterly accounts meetings. Tidiness and security are obligatory, but simply accept that children need space and make noise and life becomes a permanent Christmas. And, as the great Wizzard said: ‘I wish it could be Christmas every day.’
Yes, you’ll have to re-learn tact, discretion, tolerance, but is that so bad? Unselfishness. No more grieving over redundant shrines. No more sibling ammunition.
Instead of guilt, gilt. Instead of phonecalls, conversation. Instead of independence, support. And instead of privacy, love.