TOM UTLEY: I love my sons dearly, but it's no fun being preached to
TOM UTLEY: I love my sons dearly, but it’s no fun being preached to by YIPs who have been living entirely at my expense!
First let me extend a warm welcome to the 80,000 married couples who have recently joined our not-very-exclusive club of parents with adult children who still live at home. According to census figures released this week, these recruits bring the total club membership to 1.39 million — up from 1.31 million in 2011.
Make that 1.57 million, when you add the 180,000 unmarried couples and single parents whose over-18s have yet to fly the nest — an increase of a whopping 56 per cent since the last census.
As a long-standing member of the club, who has had at least one adult son on the premises since the eldest of our four turned 18 in 2003, I hope you won’t think me presumptuous if I offer a few words of comfort and advice.
On average, the 2,000 mothers and fathers questioned estimated the age at which they expected their young to leave at 27 — although, unsurprisingly, this rose to 29 in London, where rents and mortgages are extortionate
I’ll start with the comfort. Though it often won’t feel like it — and there will be many days when you fear you’ll be saddled with your offspring for the rest of time — the chances are that they really will leave home in the end.
Indeed, the most recent research I can find, which was conducted in 2020, suggests that most parents are unduly pessimistic about the age at which they think their young will leave to set up home on their own.
At the time of this survey, commissioned by AA Financial Services, 18 per cent of the over-55s reckoned that they would be sharing a roof with their sons or daughters for ever, while another 11 per cent thought their progeny would be hanging around until they reached their 40s.
On average, the 2,000 mothers and fathers questioned estimated the age at which they expected their young to leave at 27 — although, unsurprisingly, this rose to 29 in London, where rents and mortgages are extortionate.
In fact, however, the average age at which British children move out is somewhat lower — just over 25 for boys, and almost a year and a half younger for girls (at least, this was true in 2019, though I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if those averages have risen since then).
I’ll start with the comfort. Though it often won’t feel like it — and there will be many days when you fear you’ll be saddled with your offspring for the rest of time — the chances are that they really will leave home in the end
Interestingly, that same disparity between the sexes is evident throughout Europe, where Eurostat finds there’s not a single country in which girls leave home later than boys.
While there may be various reasons for this, I suspect one important factor is that females are simply better than males at finding flatmates and jobs.
But, yes, even the boys will probably leave eventually — though I have to report that ours lingered . . . well, let’s just say considerably longer than the average. With Numbers One and Two now married, however — and Number Three cohabiting with the love of his life, who will bear our third grandchild next month — only our youngest still lives at home, and he is 29.
But I promised you advice and here is the best I can offer: if you want to encourage your adult children to go out into the world and fend for themselves, you should study my example — and then do precisely the opposite.
I should say at once that some loving parents may actively want their offspring to stay for ever. This may be particularly true in the poorer Catholic countries of Europe, where the young traditionally look after the old.
But in Britain, where it’s usually the other way round, such parents are surely few and far between. My advice is therefore directed at the majority who would like their darling nestlings to spread their wings while they still have their youth.
Certainly, I suffered no hardship in leaving the family nest as soon as I graduated at 22 and marrying at 28 with a flat of my own. It’s a very different matter for our sons
The first step, of course, should be to charge the blighters rent, just as soon as they find gainful employment. Even a token amount should help to reduce the attractions of the family nest.
Another good tip, recommended to me by a wise reader, is that parents who can afford it should secretly squirrel away any money they extract from their young — and then present it to them as a contribution to their independent living expenses when they move out.
If you want your children to go, as much for their sake as for your own, you should also ban them from raiding the fridge, make them buy their own grub, do their own washing and generally help with the housework.
But I have to admit that I’ve followed none of this advice myself. Call me a pathetic wimp, but I could never bring myself to practise tough love — even though I knew it would be good for the boys to encourage their independent spirit.
I never charged any of them a penny for their bed and board — and I could hardly start now, with the youngest, having indulged his three older brothers.
Even all those years ago, when my life was a daily struggle to pay the bills, I felt it would simply be wrong to ask my sons for money, when they earned practically nothing from their shift work in bars and the like, while I was paid a proper salary.
Indeed, I could never shake off that guilty feeling that, in many ways, my baby-boomer generation had it easier than the Millennials.
It’s true that today’s young generally lead more comfortable lives than we did in the years of real austerity after the war. Thanks to cheap flights, for example, they’ve seen much more of the world than we did at their age.
Meanwhile, astonishing advances in technology have meant they have all sorts of luxuries we could never dream of — from a limitless supply of free music and films to the ability to take as many photographs as they like and correspond with anyone in the world, free of charge.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that in my youth it was very much easier and cheaper to set up home than it is now (particularly in our sons’ native London), while university graduates could breeze into salaried jobs, as I did.
Certainly, I suffered no hardship in leaving the family nest as soon as I graduated at 22 and marrying at 28 with a flat of my own. It’s a very different matter for our sons.
The long and the short of it is that Mrs U and I always spoiled the boys rotten while they still lived on the premises, well into adulthood, as we still spoil the youngest today. No wonder they’ve been so slow to leave.
All right, I admit it, there’s a part of me that has quite enjoyed having the boys at home — if only for the sake of having scapegoats to blame when Mrs U has railed against the idiot who stacked the dishwasher wrongly, yet again.
They could all be good company, too —clever and funny, when they chose to be. On the other hand, this could hardly make up for the countless times over the years when they lectured me on the evils of capitalism and Brexit, the need for me to pay ever higher taxes, the virtues of Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter, and our duty to admit every would-be immigrant who wishes to settle here.
The trouble is that all four of our sons, to a greater or lesser degree, are authentic YIPs. These are the Young Illiberal Progressives, identified this week in research for Channel 4, who have little or no tolerance of opinions that differ from the Left-wing, socially liberal orthodoxy drummed into them by their schools and universities.
I love them all dearly, believe me, and I wish them all the happiness in the world. But let me just say that their tendency to preach to their parents, while they lived entirely at our expense, was not always conducive to domestic harmony.
If you wish to avoid our fate, then, you should do as I say, and definitely not as I do.
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