For parents who have been enjoying the freedom of living child-free, now comes research to spoil it all
The bedrooms have been redecorated in grown-up colours, the 25-year-old soft toys chucked out, the washing machine is blissfully underused and, thanks to the apparent current raging addictions of baby boomers, a holiday or two – cruising in the Med, the Antarctic, anywhere that avoids dry land – have been booked. And then they’re back.
According to a recent study by the London School of Economics (LSE), adult children who return to the family home after a period away – often at university – cause a significant decline in their parents’ quality of life and wellbeing.
I was a terrible mother, a great mother. Pregnancy changes everything: our body, our feelings, the hierarchical order of our lives. The convention by which we have always considered ourselves one and indivisible fails. Now we have two hearts, all our organs are duplicated, our sex is doubled – we are female plus female or female plus male. And we are divisible, not metaphorically but in the acute reality of our body.
The first time I got pregnant, it was difficult to accept. Pregnancy was an anxious mental struggle. I felt it as the breakdown of an equilibrium already precarious in itself, as a revelation of the animal nature behind the fragile mask of the human. For nine months I was on a seesaw of joy and horror. The birth was terrible, it was wonderful. Taking care of a newborn, by myself, without help, without money, exhausted me; I hardly slept. I wanted to write and there was never time. Or if there was some, I would concentrate for a few minutes and then fall asleep fretfully. Until slowly everything began to seem to me marvellous. Today I think that nothing is comparable to the joy, the pleasure, of bringing another living creature into the world.
Of course, it took a lot of time away from my passion for writing. As a girl I’d imagined myself without children, entirely absorbed by my own yearnings. I admired women who were childless by choice, and I still understand the rejection of maternity. What I can no longer tolerate is the lack of understanding for women who do everything possible to get pregnant. In the past I had an ironic attitude, I thought: if you want children so much, adopt them. Today I think that the most extraordinary thing in my life was to conceive and give birth.
Men have always been jealous of that experience which is ours alone, and often dreamed – in myths, in certain rites – of forms of male pregnancy. Not only that: they immediately appropriated conception and birth metaphorically. They conceive ideas, give birth to works. And they have convinced us that since we already had the animal prerogative of maternity, the profoundly human prerogative of giving form to the world through sublime works was theirs alone.
But now we are demonstrating that we, too, are capable of metaphoric births, shadows are looming over maternity that seem to me threatening. A uterus can be bought. And among the countless prosthetic devices that will advance the connotations of the human there is one, the artificial uterus, that will free us from the annoyances of pregnancy.
I believe that in this case we should absolutely not be freed. Children are our body’s great, marvellous prostheses, and we will not give them literally to anyone, not to mad fathers, not to the country, not even to those machines that promise an inhumanly perfect humanity.
A quarter of young adults in the UK live with their parents. Three families talk about the effects
A report this week found that young adults who return to the family home can have a negative impact on their parents’ quality of life. The London School of Economics study found that about a quarter of young adults in the UK now live with their parents – the highest number since records began in 1996 – as a consequence of spiralling housing costs and poor job security. We talked to three families affected by the “boomerang” generation about life in household with young adults.
Here’s an idea: a New Year’s Eve camp for the children of parents who still love a party. Not just drinks, a dinner, but a party party, you know, a thing that starts gently with a plastic glass and chatter about school catchments and then joyfully descends.
A New Year’s Eve camp that starts today, lunchtime, where children collect by the campfire in full excitement and coats, and their parents, vibrating with guilt, cover them with weighted kisses before dashing off to shave their legs and put a record on. The camp could be in Elstree. Somewhere like Elstree. Somewhere suitably green and anonymous, but accessible by motorway. The children would have structured play for the first two hours, while parents made their ways home, relaxing a little more at every petrol station. And they’d get home, rushing now, steaming up the bathroom, a spritz of something citric maybe, the door to the kids’ room slightly ajar, its contents of Stickle Bricks and puddled tights like a conquered landscape. The music is important, the kitchen Sonos pumping out songs that remind them how to be the people they were when they met, with ambition and mopeds and all their hair. At some point they close the kids’ room door.
At camp, the muddied children would sit in a circle and drink hot chocolate, while the parents arrive at their friends’ house a little too early, too excited, wielding a bottle like a passport. In the hall they’d Facetime the children, who are anxious to get back to their midnight feast, and when they hang up the parents kiss with a passion that at first feels performative, but eases into something real.
Then the party would start to wobble slightly, they’re on a boat that’s leaving shore. The kitchen would become a ballroom, someone’s DJing from their phone, at one point a podcast about the ethics of euthanasia comes on and everyone keeps dancing. A cat sleeps furiously on the pile of coats, a marriage breaks down in the garden, 1,000 intimacies are forged in the smoking area. At camp, the midnight feast would be held in the bunks, with clumsy flirting as the new year dawns, and sleep would come slowly, under slightly itchy blankets.
The real beauty of the camp, however, would not be in the New Year’s Eve activities, but the accommodation for up to four days following – climbing, firepits, swimming, song. Each hour following a parents’ party is crucial. Home at four, ordinarily they would be woken again at seven, and chucked face first into a pit of toast and cartoons. When, of course, at this age, halfway to death, a hangover needs at least three days to bed in, to carry its owner through the tepid shallows of fear and loneliness, through to the depths of agony beyond. The memories of spilling red wine on their host’s carpet, and brilliantly covering it with ground pepper. The inevitable suggestive dance with the person who by day is a clumsy letch but by fairy light suddenly seemed like the one that got away. Oh God the vomit, the vomit in the plant, and the argument about Uber, and the standing on the table with arms outstretched shouting: “Please Has Anybody Got Any Drugs Please.”
Let’s say one day for just lying with their hands over their eyes like they’ve seen too much, heaving themselves to standing only to accept a Deliveroo. Let’s say another day to gently phone around, researching the truth, rehydrating the relationship. Then two days – full days – to ease back into the reality of their identity, and all the responsibilities and repayments, both emotional and fiscal, owed. To slither back into the skin of a person that goes to bed at 10.30, that has a whole thing about bin collection times, that goes into her son’s school to talk about stranger danger and the environmental impact of plastic bags.
At camp, the children would be protected from the raw reality of their parents as people, from seeing the awful fallout from cocktails made at dawn and shoes that need practice. Returning from Elstree, somewhere like Elstree, ruddy-cheeked and vital on 4 January, the children would smell nothing, see nothing, it would be almost spring, and they’d have learned how to make flapjacks, and their parents are alive, and that’s all they’d need to know. End of idea.