I’m 41 and have moved back in with my parents

Jo Carneigie with her parents Neil and Anna at their home near Sandy in Bedfordshire.Jo Carneigie with her parents Neil and Anna at their home near Sandy in Bedfordshire. Photo: John Lawrence/Telegraph, London

Returning to the familial home for Christmas was a welcome treat for many of us – almost as welcome as heading back off again once the post-Boxing Day wasteland, with its tightened waistbands and frayed tempers, had set in. But what if there is no place to go back to once the festivities end? What if this is your life? What if, like me, at the grand old age of 41, you’ve moved back in with your mum and dad?

I never expected this. In my 20s and 30s, I owned two flats and, for a fleeting period, was the co-owner of a grown-up Victorian terrace house. Following a relationship breakdown, I found myself back on the market, so to speak, with a significantly reduced amount of capital and zero chance of getting back on the London housing ladder.

The sensible thing would have been to save up to put another deposit down on a modest place in an area earmarked as the next hot spot. Instead, I spent three years and a large amount of my savings travelling abroad, volunteering for an animal charity, studying and generally having fun.

I'm drunk by 6.15pm and in bed with a hangover by 8.30pm.I’m drunk by 6.15pm and in bed with a hangover by 8.30pm. Photo: iStock

Now I have, quite literally, crash-landed back into real life. While I work out what to do next, it seemed like the practical (and only) choice to move back in with my parents to the house where I grew up, in rural Bedfordshire (about 55km north of London). Luckily they said yes. Nearly three months later, I’m still here.

I have a good relationship with my parents, but an “all you can eat and drink” weekend back home is different to living there full-time. Decades-long squabbles have been reignited. My dad runs the washing-up regime in the kitchen like a military operation and, as I write this, the unwelcome presence of my dirty porridge saucepan in the sink haunts the house. Yesterday, I got accused of “hacking” into my dad’s breakfast loaf (I was cutting off two slices!), amid mutterings of “the axe woman returneth”.

Then there is the fact that my parents are now retired and in their seventies. There is a certain amount of guilt on my side that I should be looking after them – although, thankfully, they are both still in good health.

It's been Great British Railways on TV for weeks now.It’s been Great British Railways on TV for weeks now. Photo: iStock

At the moment I don’t pay bills, a mortgage or anything else that constitutes the parameters of a “normal” adult life. I do worry about regressing into a giant adult baby, so I do my own food shopping and washing and pay a nominal amount of rent, which is probably more for my benefit than theirs.

Still, it’s hard to hold on to your independence when you are living at home. I have no car, so I have to rely on lifts from my parents everywhere. Every day, my dad asks me if I’ve got a job yet (he clearly doesn’t think freelance writing counts).

TV-wise, it’s like going back to the ’50s. My parents only have free-to-air TV and evenings are spent watching University Challenge or repeats of Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo. I am drunk most nights by 6.15pm on one of my mum’s super-strength brandy and gingers and in bed at 8.30pm with a hangover. I start to wonder if I will ever have an age-appropriate social life again.

Three might be a crowd when it's time to return to your parents' house.Three might be a crowd when it’s time to return to your parents’ house. Photo: iStock

I should also point out that I am now single and the Tinder selection in the sticks isn’t fantastic, unless you have a penchant for ruddy-faced farmers with profile pictures of them posing in front of their muddy Land Rovers and caressing a brace of dead pheasants.

But there are lots of good things about living back at home, like spending time with Mum and Dad while I’m still lucky enough to have them. And with 146 years of combined life experience, they are pretty good at offering wise counsel when I have one of my “Oh God, why did I spend all my money on Airbnbs and finding myself, instead of buying another place!” meltdowns.

Reassuringly, it would appear I am part of a trend. Due to ever-increasing property prices, “multi-generational living”, where two or more adult generations live in one household, is on the rise. I don’t think my dad was listening when I told him this, as later on I overheard him telling Mum how they were now part of something called “transgenerational living”.

But I can’t deny that living at home with your parents in your 40s is a funny old place to be. I’ve never massively wanted children, so I’ve always been aware of being on a slightly different trajectory and timescale to most other people.

At first I loved the novelty of cohabiting with the folks. But as the weeks and months slipped past, I started to get paranoid about being the joke. The longer I spent in the countryside at my parents’ house, the wider the gulf between my friends’ lives and mine seemed to get. Then I actually met up with them and realised they didn’t care. The problem was in my own head.

“I know a few people our age who’ve moved home for a while, for different reasons,” my friend Clare said over a festive drink in London. “We’re an older generation where a lot of stuff happens later now.” Clare has a husband, a mortgage, a demanding career and two small children. “To be honest,” she tells me, ordering another bottle of prosecco, “I think most people are too busy judging their own lives to worry about what you are doing with yours.”

Maybe she was just trying to make me feel better – or maybe it is a sign of the times. The housing market might be forcing many of us to live in very different ways, but maybe that’s a good thing. What makes for a happy or successful life is not set in stone. We have so much more opportunity and choice these days, especially women.

When I have those moments staring out of the living room window across the flat muddy fields and my stomach drops and I think: “What have I done?”, I remind myself that there are worse places to recoup than with people who love me, in a warm and comfortable house. I would still rather be where I am now, uncertain as it is, than be the property-owning but ultimately dissatisfied person I was before. Plus, I am only 41. Hardly on life’s scrap heap.

And what is the outlook? Well, there are a few options coming up, one of which is moving into my sister’s place in Bristol. New city, new start, and all that. Admittedly it’s still family, but telling potential suitors you live with your sister is way better than saying you live with your parents. The future looks bright, even if it does mean living in somebody else’s house again.

Daily Telegraph, London