In part two of ‘Failure to Launch’ I chatted with Karen and her mother Geraldine, who spent six months living together in their family home in South County Dublin when Karen was twenty three. The conversations took place a year and a half ago, when Karen was preparing to move to India for a fellowship and contemplating a career as a barrister. In this revealing and insightful interview we talk money, fears of the future, and the difficulties having sex when you still live at home. Karen continues to live in India, where she is living in an Ashram and training as a meditation coach. Next week’s piece will see Karen and Geraldine reflect on their own and each others answers one year on, having spent twelve months living on other sides of the world.
1. How do you find living with you mum in your family home at the age of 24?
Living with my mum can be very difficult. I think that she had a newfound independence post the separation with my father. She has really reclaimed her home and reclaimed her life, and doesn’t really want adult children hanging out of her hair. That said, she has been incredibly accommodating for me moving back after living in Paris. We do clash on occasion as we have very strong characters. Just in terms of the general set up, I pay €200 rent a month to my mother and that’s just a kind of general contribution towards food and stuff. I don’t but any groceries – she buys them all, she fills the fridge. The trade off would be that I try to do some chores, although she tells me that I don’t do enough. Generally it’s reasonably harmonious, well, in recent months it has been. The only thing I find is there is an expectation with my mother to spend time with her and contribute towards the general family atmosphere and I find that I am too busy to do so.
2. Do you worry about money?
Yes I do still worry about money, even though I know I’m only making a slight contribution. €200 is minimal compared to what I would be paying if I was paying Dublin rent elsewhere. I do worry about money because obviously I’m saving up towards a masters and I do have to make payments towards that. Living costs can be quite high, and if you’re having any kind of social life that can really rack up. That said, if my money stopped tomorrow all my basic amenities are covered. I’ll always have food and there will always be food on the table. I cycle most places. I generally just need money towards my masters and going out and other necessities.
3. When you think you’ll own your own home?
Never, never [laughing]. Realistically, considering the line of work I’ll be going into, unless I have a partner I will not be able to afford my own home, not in Dublin. If a mortgage saw [my line of work] they might think I am a risk and I don’t think I would be getting a mortgage on sole income. So I would have to be on a dual income with a partner, and then again I don’t think I would be earning enough to live in central Dublin or even suburban Dublin. I don’t want to commute, I don’t think that’s a quality of life, so I’m not willing to go to the outskirts of Dublin or to stay somewhere like Meath. So that only leaves me with one option, that’s to buy elsewhere and live in a different country. And not until I’m probably at least 33.
How do you feel about that prospect? Are you scared?
I guess because I feel like everyone is in the same boat I don’t there are many people who have that steady pensionable income jobs. A lot of people are living in jobs that are transitional or transient and are looking at the prospect of maybe having several jobs. There’s not really that same road to success or even progression through the hierarchy that there was historically. So it doesn’t really bother me now, but I’d say it might when I hit late twenties and really start to access the situation it, especially in terms of putting a deposit on a house. There are a lot of people’s parents who will help them out with that but if you’re not helped out where does that leave you? You’re looking at a shitty first home to buy, and I’m not willing to do that. If I’m buying a home I want it to be a home that I really love. I don’t really have the skills to buy a shitty home, do it up, and then resell and then buy a nice home. I don’t have the skills for that and I don’t have the energy.
4. Do you feel like your sex life, dating life and social life is affected by your living situation?
Absolutely, absolutely. In dating life, if you’re dating someone initially it’s not usually a big issue that you’re living at home. But once you cross that boundary and want to go into a sexual relationship, if both of you are living at home, especially in my home, it is out of the question for me to bring somebody home. It’s not even that my mum is not liberal. She is liberal and she would not mind that I’m having a sex life, I think she understands that it’s just a natural part of the age and stage at which I’m at. Its more the fact that she hasn’t verified this person, and she is so worried that I could bring someone home that could potentially rob something from the house. That’s her main concern. She doesn’t care about the sex life but she doesn’t want me bringing strays off the street and then them robbing her. It’s her home as well. There has to be a little bit of respect in terms of the people you bring here.
In terms of social life as well, equally so. She doesn’t mind me having a couple of friends over for drinks or whatever, so long as I tidy the place afterwards. And by tidy I mean spick and span. It is something that I find I have to raise quite early in terms of dating relationship. You’re looking at the person, and if the other person says “I also live at home”, both of you are like, “Fuck”. You wonder, “God, what are we going to do?” Realistically people are going to have sex regardless of whether they live at home or not, so you have to find other avenues of having sex. And the only other avenues really is to be that horny teenage couple in the park, or to rent a hotel. You miss out on nice things like making dinner together, or “Netflix and chill”, and general hangout time. It becomes very like a courtship, and then very seedy if you have to go the hotel route as well.
5. Do you feel like your generation comes under fire for you lifestyle choices and spending habits?
I feel there’s a general perception of our generation that we’re selfish, that we’re very much in pursuit of our own happiness. That we are unwilling to put our heads down and do the hard work to actually get those jobs and stay in them, to do the graft and then get the home. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. To a degree the employment life or the work life has shifted. I don’t think those jobs are really in effect anymore, they’re not out there for us anymore. I do find that maybe just looking at our generation, we went through the recession, we saw the hard times, and we went through the boom. I do think to a degree that curbed how frivolous and how out-there we were previously. But there aren’t many of my friends that I would think are good with their money, spend their money well, and know how to save. I would say that I don’t know how to save whereas I think my parents are very good savers. I don’t know where they went wrong on that, or where I didn’t pick that up, but maybe when you see to a degree the amount of work that has to go in behind getting a house, owning a house, paying off a mortgage, sometimes you just look at the outcome and think, “That’s not something I want, that’s not something I’m willing to do.” And I think that’s ok as well.
6. What is the best and worst part of living with your mum?
The best thing I’d say is to always have a backup there at home. When you live abroad or out of home, you do feel like everything falls on your shoulders and you have to be very independent. Whereas it is nice, especially if you have a mind-block or if you’re anxious about something, to go home and discuss with someone like my mother in person, to get her life experience and her opinion on something. Sometimes she talks absolute shite and doesn’t help me at all, but oftentimes even having that conversation will make you reflect differently on the issue and then you can move forward with it. The worst thing is definitely not having that space to invite people over, or make people dinner without having that anxiety of having to clean up. Or, are we using the correct glasses, or if something smashes WWIII is going to break out. Having that element of clean up directly after to her standard, I think that’s the worst thing.
1. How do you find sharing the family home with your adult child?
Karen has only moved back home in the last six months and it has been a challenging time. She has lived outside of the home for the best part of three years. Two assertive women, two opinionated women, two strong women; it required an adjustment period and a lot of negotiation on both our parts. I find it challenging because I’m separated, her father and I don’t live together and that brings its own challenges. She sometimes feels that she needs to go to him if things aren’t going her way in the house, which I don’t agree with. It’s now my house; she lives here under my terms and conditions. Karen is very independent and likes to come and go when she pleases and having lived away, finds it very hard to adjust to living in a family home and “my house, my regulations.”. She has come onboard to an extent but I have said to her on occasion, “A twenty-four year old girl vs her mother living together in a house is very difficult”. It is difficult to find common ground and negotiate a communal living that we can both agree on. But in general, it works!
2. How old were you when you first moved out of your family home?
My experience is probably a lot different to what my children have experienced. I went to boarding school at twelve years of age. My mother had remarried the year I went to boarding school, therefore we were moving to a new place to live and it was only a place we went to on the school holidays, a new place completely. We had stepbrothers, stepsisters and stepfather. Fortunately for me I was only twelve so I adopted tremendously, integrated really well, loved my stepfather, went to live on a farm, loved the farming life. It worked very well for me! Having said that, I moved to boarding school at the age of twelve and I never went home. At eighteen I was in college. As we moved to Tipperary I was living in Dublin for school days, college days, so I never actually went back home to live with family, with my mother or stepfather. So it was a completely different lifestyle for me. I’ve always lived more or less independently. We had our allowance, we had our budget, we rented our accommodation. We went to college, we got a job and then we got married. That’s how long I’ve been out of the family home.
3. When did you buy your own home?
I got married in 1990 and we bought our first house in 1993, so I’ve been living here twenty-three years.
4. How do you feel about Karen bringing home friends or sexual partners?
The house has always been open to Karen, and any of my kids, bringing home anybody. I firmly believe their generation is completely different to how we grew up. I firmly believe that friends are very welcome, partners are welcome. I mostly prefer to think if they’re in a relationship, no matter how temporary, that they are able to bring home that person to the house then going out somewhere, having to rent a room, or whatever one does when one is that age. It’s completely different to the way that I was brought up but I am completely on board with that.
5. What is the biggest difference between your generation and Karen’s generation?
We never had an open relationship with our parents. We had left the family home from a very young age. We would never discuss anything personal, sexual, or anything else with our parents. We went home to their house and we obeyed their rules. If we brought someone home we slept in separate rooms. We just adhered to their rules. There were very decent people but they lived a very conservative life, and we respected their lifestyle. This generation, we have had to go with the flow and accept their new nuances, their new morals. I would like to think the house is open. I don’t agree going through various partners or umpteen people. I’d like to think that that they would meet and settle, but I think they’re of a very disposable generation where its very much based upon self-gratification. You need to be very careful and you need to realise what you’re doing. I think it’s going to be very hard for Karen’s generation, or any of my kids, to meet the person who’s going to fulfill all their criteria. They’ve had it all and now I’m not sure they know what they really want.
6. What do you think of Karen’s lifestyle and spending habits?
Well Karen has a very unique lifestyle. I think she is a woman who definitely hasn’t found what she’s looking for. She comes from a family, particularly on her father’s side, of serious intelligence and with that intelligence comes serious challenges. She seems to be in pursuit of something that I’m not quite sure is out there. She has to follow her dream. She’s off to India now in a few weeks time. She’s going with her heart, having done a French law degree. I’m hoping it will find her some peace of mind and some direction of where she wants to go. To me, at the moment she’s very unsettled, very troubled in many ways, and as a mother probably won’t discuss it with me but with her friends. She’ll get there; she’ll definitely get there. India may well be an awakening for her, an opening of her mind and a complete change of career and direction.
Expenditure, again, she probably doesn’t fully realise the value of money. Again, she will get there. She’s living at home, virtually rent free as she’s paying only a nominal rent. I’ve given her money to survive in India, which she’s going to pay back. But life is tough. Earning money in Ireland is tough. She’s going to have to come back and she’s going to have to realise how she’s going to afford to live and divvy up the expenses. At the moment she probably isn’t fully aware of the cost of living, as are many of her generation.
7. What is the best and worst thing about living with Karen.
It’s lovely having a female living at home. I had only one other son living at home, one daughter living in Paris. We probably don’t get enough time to bounce off each other because she lives a very full life and she likes to socialise. She’s not here much. But we did go on holiday together which was fantastic for both of us, just to have that one on one time. I find her fascinating and interesting and do love having a female presence at home, but, at twenty-four years of age its time to move on Karen. Go live your own life! [Laughs]
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.