Written by Charley Ross
Millions of people are moving home in the face of a crippling cost of living crisis. Charley Ross asked an expert how best to navigate this to protect your psyche and family relationships.
When it comes to big life moments, we’re taught to follow a blueprint. Education, work, marriage, children – and we often feel bad if we don’t tick these things off at the appropriate age.
Entering adulthood means learning that ‘achieving’ a pre-planned, society-approved list of milestones isn’t always possible, and it definitely doesn’t suit everyone.
A whole generation is now reconsidering this pre-conceived timeline due to the huge cost of living independently.
An October 2022 study found that millions of adults – dubbed ‘boomerang kids’– are returning to the family nest due to the cost of living crisis. It may be a strategic move to save for the future; it may be due to a job loss – whatever the reason, the current economic situation has caused a huge increase in the impulse to boomerang back to where we started.
And while there may be perks – home-cooked meals and comforts are a definite plus – there are notable downsides. Aside from the ‘taboo’ surrounding the decision to sidestep the milestone of buying or renting property and returning to the family fold, there are many emotional ramifications to consider when moving home.
Not least is the likelihood you may regress and begin acting like your ‘childhood self’, and the impact that will have on both your psyche and your relationships with family members.
So the first question is this: why do we feel the impulse to turn into our spoiled, messy, unreasonable teenage selves when we spend an extended period back in the family fold?
According to counsellor and psychotherapist Bethan O’Riordan, part of this is our brain’s taking “the path of least resistance”.
“Our mind will always go back to what’s familiar,” she says. “This may not be what’s helpful, of course, but our brains will always go towards the path of least resistance and fall back into its familiar way of relating to someone.”
“While we don’t consciously remember all that we’ve experienced in our lives, our memories and – perhaps more importantly – our bodies retain all of our past experiences. So it can almost feel like we are returning to a pre-programmed way of being when returning home.”
This can easily lead to fully grown humans feeling disconnected from the adult part of themselves. “It can be hard for adults to advocate for themselves when their brain and body is feeling like a child within these relationships,” O’Riordan says.
“So even though a person might be in a relationship, have a job, have friends (all the normal parts of being an adult), to move home where they aren’t in an adult-equal relationship has a significant impact on the individual’s sense of identity.”
This can result in feeling like you’re losing your autonomy, which, in turn, can lead to a range of mental health issues.
“So often when people move back it’s under the terms of the parents within the home,” O’Riordan explains.
“It’s often not like a flatshare with peers where rules can be negotiated; it’s moving back under the terms of someone else.In these situations, decision-making can be difficult and really underpins a sense of not feeling like yourself.
“This is dangerous territory and creates the perfect environment for critical self-reflection, which can lead to a host of mental health difficulties.”
So what can be done? First off, it’s really worth doing the mental work before you move back home – it can make all the difference when it comes to your experience once you’re there.
“Before you make the move, take time to consider how you’d like things to look,” O’Riordan advises. “Consider the logistics and emotions carefully – know the limitations of those you’re going to move in with, your own limitations and be realistic about it.
“So often we expect more from people than what they are able to offer us, and perhaps we do the same for ourselves too. This is for us to remedy and heal within ourselves, rather than for the other person to amend.”
She also stresses the importance of “creating an open dialogue for reflection and honesty”.
“Can you hear someone’s opinion about yourself and not feel vilified?Everyone has to be allowed to voice their opinion and then a middle ground can be found.If there are parts of this that you are fearful of or concerned about, then find a way to explore these, perhaps in your own therapy.
“This will help you to remember that while you are part of the family system and relationship dynamics, you are still an individual with your own thoughts, feelings, values and ethics.”
Practically, it is also helpful to talk and set guidelines with family members. O’Riordan recommends using “clear, non-confrontational language to let people know thoughts and plans”.
It may feel tempting to resort to passive-aggressive – perhaps borderline immature – methods of communication that were commonplace when you were a teenager, but that is unlikely to yield the best results if you’d like to be treated like an adult in the house and environment where you grew up.
As well as managing your familial relationships, though, what’s really crucial is staying connected with your ‘adult self’ while living back home.
To do this, O’Riordan recommends focusing on being mentally flexible, as opposed to getting stuck in less flexible, childish habits and not to lose sight of working on who you are as an adult.
“Keep connecting with what makes you feel like you, and feed your adult senses,” she says. “This can be who you hang out with, what you spend your time doing, what you read and listen to – nurture every part of you.”
There are ways to challenge and balance the tendency to regress while at home, she explains. “This might include exercise, talking therapy, energy therapies, being in nature or a simple yet deeply profound connection to those who are important to you in your life.”
The stigma and childhood impulses that come from moving back home could also be reframed. It can be seen as a precious opportunity to spend time with loved ones – if managed with the right boundaries, communication and perspective.
And for those boomerang kids who are heading back to the parental home: remember, it’s not always helpful to scold your inner child. Whether you’re living in your family home or not, O’Riordan insists your inner child, regressive or not, deserves some TLC too – it’s part of staying truly connected to yourself while you plot your next step in adult life.
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