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22nd May 2024

‘My 29-year-old son’s refusal to move out of home has left me seething with resentment’

Ryan Price

‘He makes a terrible mess, eats all my food and cramps my sex life.’

According to 2022’s Census, one in five 30-year-olds in Ireland are living at home. This is up from 13 percent in 2011.

It’s one of the most staggering symptoms of the cost of living crisis that both parents and their offspring have been struggling with in recent years.

One mother, who is having a desperately difficult time negotiating living with her 29-year-old son who she claims “makes a terrible mess, eats all my food and cramps my sex life”, wrote in to the Anonymous for Daily Mail column looking for help.

She begins: “This morning I woke up to a familiar sound. The thud, thud, thud as my eldest son thunders down the stairs to get his breakfast. I’ve heard this noise for many years now. It is part of the routine.

“I used to love hearing it,” she adds.

“When he was younger, I would lie in bed and know all was right in the world when I heard him in the house. But I don’t feel that way now he’s 29. Now what I feel is bitter resentment.

“On the eve of him turning 30, I’d assumed he’d be long gone, creating his own life, seeing his own friends, making his own mess — and spending his own money. But no. Like many ‘children’, my eldest son is still living with me at home.”

The conflicted mother continues: “I don’t think parents have yet grasped what this large societal shift means. Has the term ‘empty nest’ become obsolete?

“Personally, it means that the relationship I have with my son is souring. Instead of waves of unconditional love, I more often swing between angry and sad.

“I’m also questioning my parenting: is it my fault he hasn’t left yet? Have I made him too dependent on me?”

She then goes on to compare her own upbringing, with the very different experience her son had.

“My parents were children during the war and encouraged my siblings and I to stand on our own two feet from the earliest age,” she wrote.

“We had paper rounds as young teens and got the bus to meet friends. I don’t remember my mum helping me with homework once.

“By contrast, my generation of 50-something parents were the first to ‘helicopter’ their children, always hovering over them, ferrying them to clubs, finding lost PE kit, doing the homework with them. I fear we cosseted them so much they never developed the thicker skin you need for the world beyond home.

“It is all too easy for them to stay curled up under our wings. I worry about it all the time.”

She continues: “It’s not just that he makes so much mess — he makes an inordinate amount of mess — it’s also the emotional burden of it all.

“I find myself seething with frustration when I get up after him in the morning and there are crumbs all over the kitchen and detritus on the stairs (socks and trainers mostly). I don’t want to be clearing up while at the same feeling mutinous and irritable. It makes me dislike him and dislike myself.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way. At the age of 19, he went off to university after a year out and I thought that would be that.

“I assumed he’d graduate and then make his way in the world. Maybe he’d move to a city (we live pretty rurally) and share a flat with friends. I knew he might come home for the summer — but it never occurred to me that he’d want to live here, in the middle of nowhere. Surely he would want to be in the beating heart of a city, full of career opportunities, nightlife and other young people?”

The anonymous woman shares that his son does have a job, and is at the beginning of what sounds like a lucrative career, but at the moment is not making enough money to live independently.

“It’s not that he doesn’t have a job: he works for lawyers in a nearby legal practice. It’s a good role and he’s promised he’ll move out as soon as he has saved enough money, but he’s currently paid just over the minimum wage, so it’s going to take some time. And, if I’m being perfectly honest, I don’t know that he’s trying very hard to save.

“We agreed he’d pay me rent — £300 a month — but that often doesn’t happen because he doesn’t seem to have it available. I do ask, but then I start to feel like a nag. There is a part of me that suspects that this is all a bit manipulative. We know each other’s strong points, but also our weak spots. He believes I will love him unconditionally whatever he does, and that includes being flaky with the rent.

“I don’t think he sees it as a problem in the way I do. He says all his friends live at home — and I don’t doubt it — but it actually does make me despair.

“The trouble is, it’s an arrangement without clear rules. Sometimes, yes, I mother him, but sometimes we’re more like housemates, merely sharing the same space. But no. He seemed delighted to come home, all 6 ft 4 in of him.”

She continues: “At 58, I’d been looking forward to a time when I had more freedom. His father and I separated many years ago and I’ve essentially been single ever since, devoting my life to bringing him up and working.

“I’ve endeavoured to give him the best start in life I could. But I thought he’d eventually leave home and I would get to concentrate on myself and my life. It’s not that I haven’t dated — it’s just that I now have had to keep everyone at arm’s length while I’m prioritising my son and my income.

“But now I’d love a partner who I can spend some time with and actually be in my home with. How can I bring a man home with my 29-year-old son sleeping right next door to me? The thought of it makes me feel horribly self-conscious. And yet my son often brings girlfriends home and I never complain. I just put my ear plugs in.

“The truth is, I am shocked that he seemingly has no desire to move on to the next phase of life.”

She concludes: “In my darkest moments I feel that my son hasn’t moved on partly because of our failed relationship. Perhaps he imagines himself the man of the house and that it’s his role to be here? I torture myself that after the divorce I must have molly-coddled him — and perhaps still do. Maybe underneath everything he feels he can’t leave me.

“But then I reassure myself that many children still living at home are not the product of single parent families. They simply look at the extortionate rent costs out there and wonder why anyone would ever give up their cushy life in their family home.

“I love my son, of course — that goes without saying — but when I see him using all my washing powder, eating all my food, I fear my love is growing into resentment. Sometimes I just want to scream at him.

“And then, at other times, I love him being here. When I am tired and just want to hang out with someone, he can be such easy company, and so much fun. But this situation is not right for either of us.

“Every few weeks, I make a promise to myself that I will have a hard conversation with him and give him a deadline to move out. It’s for his own good, I tell myself. And then I put it off again — and pick his socks up from the stairs.”

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