The Family Nest ... returning Chicks and Manners....

The Chicks visiting the Nest

It’s almost holiday time and families are accommodating children returning home to the “family nest” for Easter.

But for many families, the older children are not actually leaving the nest, but remaining well into their twenties.  And the family manners code of behaviour has had to be reworked.

I read an interesting article in The New York Times the other day which commented on a book by Katherine S. Newman, a sociologist and dean at John Hopkins University “The Accordion Family”(Beacon Press) which examines how the tough economic climate globally has limited the job prospects of many young adults and forced them to move back in with their parents.  The author found that a higher proportion of adult children now live with their parents than at any other time since the 1950s.

And in my personal experience, the young adults in their 20s are remaining at university for longer, taking extra graduate degrees and so remaining at home while they complete their studies.

In many cultures it is normal and appropriate for “children” to remain at home until marriage…but in Australia, as in much of the Western world, this is a more recent paradigm.

When I was a “young adult” in the 1970s  we couldn’t wait to leave home, set up with friends, or in college rooms and explore our new found “freedom”.

 At 17, after boarding school, I joined my parents in Washington DC where my father was the Australian Naval Attache, having deferred an entry to the Australian National University to study International Law and Politics.  The opportunity was too great to pass up and I was employed by the Australian Embassy.  At 18 I was offered the chance to return to Australia and work in the private office of the then Prime Minister, and again I deferred my University entrance…I was living the life I was about to study!

I only holidayed with my parents then from that age.  They had given me the values to live on my own, and certainly assisted with finding me a flat and advising me about bond, rent and responsibilities.
It was normal then.  We young adults made mistakes, learnt how to cook, to procrastinate about the laundry, the rubbish removal, the dusting and vacuuming…and the bills.  But then, through some catalyst, such as a tidy boyfriend, or girlfriend,  we learned, or chose,  to be happy homemakers.

Perhaps because we baby boomers had started so early on  this journey towards  domestic “bliss” we have nurtured our own children too much and encouraged them to remain in situ in the family home past their “leaving would be a good thing now” date.

So what are the rules when the son and heir, or daughter and heir, move back in, or don’t move out? The situation of two’s company, three’s a crowd, certainly exists. The question of personal space is an issue when the parents are in their 50’s, for example, and the young adult in their 20s.  Can they have friends in for drinks on Friday night? Can friends stay over, and how do we politely manage in the morning?   Should they pay rent? Can you check if their room is tidy to the general household standard or is that imposing on their privacy?  It’s so much easier when they are young and can be bossed around.

When people ask me about the most important component of manners, I always answer with the word “respect”. 

And in a family, respect for those with whom you live, confront, support, nurture and abide should be the gold standard.  In living with parents in the family home, young adults should have the same level of manners they would show to their house partners if they were sharing the rent and refrigerator.

But this is often not the case.  And it is up the parents to determine the acceptable code of behaviour and what level of shared responsibility should be in place.  Whether it is chores, a “rent” to contribute to the outgoings, or whatever seems appropriate.
To allow young adults to live at home, without responsibility, is doing them no favours.  Nurture them by all means, feed them, make them clean up the kitchen when they feed you.  And definitely don’t do their laundry.

It is a wonderful experience to have adult “children” back under the roof…I love having my children back in their bedrooms, to make them tea in the morning, to catch up with their friends when they visit my home, to cook their favourite foods, to swim with my daughter at North Cottesloe Beach, to visit restaurants with my son.  But to have them living with me now on a full time basis?  The three of us have decided that visits are perfect…and their daily phone calls are the joy in my day. As much as me they like their own space.  Perhaps the respect the three of us share is in it's finest form…love.


  1. What a beautiful photo, Louise! The three of you look absolutely stunning! Thanks for sharing. And what a great post! I think I'll show it to a colleague of mine who is a single mum, fending for her 22 year old son and 17 year old daughter. The daughter is an absolute doll, but the son can be a real pain in the a... (sorry for the expression) sometimes, having no respect for his mother what-so-ever. I think she'll appreciate your point of view on the matter. Martine

  2. Martine. Thank you for your compliment. It's not easy being a single parent. Please advise your friend to persist with her son. It's been an interesting journey with my son and me. My daughter and he are so different. But I have always tried to offer them the same respect I expected from them. And to laugh together when the difficult times passed.


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