Home is the new flatting for stay-in-the-nest kids

By Susan Edmunds

Like baby birds spreading their wings, it's natural for young people to leave home and find their own way in the world. But there's a growing trend for them to head back to the nest in their adult life.

Pebbles Hooper couldn't afford the lifestyle she gets with living at home with her fashion designer mum Denise L'Estrange Corbet in Freemans Bay. Photo / Doug Sherring
Pebbles Hooper couldn't afford the lifestyle she gets with living at home with her fashion designer mum Denise L'Estrange Corbet in Freemans Bay. Photo / Doug Sherring

Fashion designer Denise L'Estrange-Corbet had dreams of turning her daughter's bedroom into a library when Pebbles finally moved out of home.

It would become somewhere cosy to read, a place to entertain, a room lined with books and decorated with heavy, fringed velvet curtains and leather chairs.

It was the biggest bedroom in the family's Freemans Bay home, lit with the colours from gorgeous stained glass windows.

But when Pebbles moved out six years ago, aged 18, to live with her boyfriend, she left almost everything still in place — including the bed.

"The thought of tackling it in her absence was in the too-hard basket, so I left it," L'Estrange-Corbet says.

That turned out to have been a good decision.

Within a couple of years, Pebbles was back.

Now 24, she has been living with her parents ever since.

Pebbles says it's working so well that it'll be hard to leave again when the time comes.

There's no way she could afford such a nice house, in such a good area, on her own, and after flatting, a house shared with strangers isn't something she wants to live in again.

"In a way, it's discouraging me to leave. I wouldn't want to — it's too nice and I've become accustomed to the nicer things. If I did move out again I'd want to find my own place as opposed to moving for the experience of flatting. I've done that and it's not for me."

L'Estrange-Corbet says she doesn't treat Pebbles any differently the second time around.

"She is still the same person, and so am I, so I still moan constantly about the state of her room, how the dogs should not be lying on the bed, how she should tidy up, help around the house, nag, nag, nag, just the same really!

"I moan, she ignores me, that is how it has always been, and will always be."

But Pebbles reckons she's a bit less resentful than when she was a teenager now that she realises that living with family is a better option than sharing with flatmates.

She's decided 26 is the limit before it's time to branch out on her own again. "The situation I'm in now is so convenient. I know people much older, in their late 30s, who still live at home.

"There's no way I'd want to be at home when I'm that old. I'm 24 now and 26 is the limit, although I'll probably end up lying about it."

And it's only when her mum is in a really bad mood that she's told to tidy her room.


Pebbles Hooper is part of a growing trend. More adults are returning to their parents' homes — or never leaving. The 2013 Census showed that just under 150,000 20 to 34-year-olds are living as a child in a family nucleus, up from 131,289 in 2006 and 116,067 in 2001.

Sometimes it's after a relationship break-up or for a short period to get back on their feet after returning from overseas.

In other cases, the finger of blame is pointed at rising housing costs that make it harder for young people to start out on their own.

An OECD report this week found New Zealand's house price inflation, at 8.2 per cent, was the highest in the Western world last year.

Labour housing spokesman Phil Twyford says it now costs someone on the average wage almost half their pay to service an average mortgage.

By 2018, it will be 63 per cent nationally and 86 per cent in Auckland.


Ann Dupuis, from Massey University's school of people, environment and planning, is working on a research grant application to study multi-generational households.

The trend is much broader than just young people moving back home with their parents, she says. Sometimes, they aren't moving out at all. Some elderly people are choosing to move in with their adult children. It is now not uncommon to have three generations of one family living under the same roof.

Many migrant families are coming to New Zealand from places where it is much more common to have everyone living together, she says. "This has probably always been quite an acceptable way of living for some groups in New Zealand. It certainly was in the past."

Dupuis says it is only since the end of World War II that people have been leaving the family home as early as possible, as booming employment and better education meant they were able to look after themselves earlier in life.

Now that it has become a tougher proposition, young people today are following the lead of their great-grandparents, rather than their parents.

"Maybe we're looking at more traditional patterns coming back," Dupuis says. Whether it's a positive or negative movement depends on those involved.

"Sometimes there's overcrowding and it often can lead to family conflict. But in some occasions it could be perfectly workable."

If the trend continues, Dupuis says, it may raise issues for town planners. "It's interesting how it fits with Auckland in particular with plans for urban intensification, and building of smaller units with fewer bedrooms. Multiple generation families tend to be larger than average households, that goes against the trend to cut back on space and the number of bedrooms."


Jess Skedgwell, 22, has been in and out of her mother's house in Hastings three times since she turned 18.

Now, with a partner, a toddler and a newborn, she's back — and her mum has moved to the sleepout.

Skedgwell says it was a financial decision to live with her mum. "Even when I was working full-time, I couldn't afford a good home and household items as well as bills."

She said the hardest part was living by her mum's rules, as an adult, "respecting her house and property because it's her name on the line. She comes in every day and nitpicks about how this could be cleaner, or do the washing if I haven't done it that day".

"Little but annoying things, it's difficult as I can't say anything as it is still her home."

Being out in the granny flat wasn't a problem for her mum, she says. "It's a little home away from home as such. It wasn't big enough for us so she took it."

But her partner, Jake Casey, isn't keen on making the arrangement a permanent one. "He wants out asap. Not because of any conflict but he wants to do the man thing and provide for his family, instead of accepting what he describes as handouts."


But when you've been out in the world, living on your own for years, negotiating the change in dynamics that happens when you move home can be tricky.

Family therapist Suzi Wallis says people need to be conscious that they don't revert to their old roles the minute they're back under their parents' roof. "If as a kid you used to walk in to your parents' house and open the fridge, I've seen adults do that, too. You have to be aware — why do I feel like I'm 14 again?"

Going into a situation where there isn't the same level of autonomy can take some adjustment, she says, and she recommends having an in-depth discussion before moving back in about how it might work. "Have an agreement on how to handle things as they come up. Families are so good at violating boundaries unintentionally because they're so used to being involved."

Robyn Scott, of Age Concern, says there are potential pitfalls for parents, too. They might be roped in to providing daily babysitting for grandchildren or find themselves forking out to run a household that's suddenly a lot bigger than they anticipated having to cater for in retirement.

"It can be of mutual benefit but you need to be really clear about your expectations before you start."

It can turn into elder abuse if adult children move in, expecting to have everything paid for by unwilling parents, she says.

Scott recommends a kind of pre-nuptial arrangement outlining who will pay for what, from the insurance and rates through to the groceries. "There's an idea that you're family so it's always going to work out but it doesn't always.

"It's about being clear about your expectations in a realistic way, not a Pollyanna way."

She says it's easy for parents to feel they should be looking after their kids, no matter what their age.

Scott can understand why parents always want to provide for their children and why they fall into that role, particularly if they are financially better off than the children moving back to the family home. "Sometimes it's about being a bit firmer about the reality of things so you don't end up in turmoil six months or a year down the track."

In Freemans Bay, L'Estrange-Corbet is happy that daughter Pebbles is still at home. "She is just great to have around and I am very lucky to have such a spectacular daughter."

She says other parents should embrace the opportunity if they can. "When they leave and have their own families, you will wish you saw more of them, so if you have the time and opportunity of spending a few more years with them under the same roof, make the most of it. I will be very sad the day she does leave, even if I do get the library."



Dave Handley, left, and his wife Maria Fastnedge, far right, enjoy the company of Amy and Jake and their grandson Harper. Photo / Michael Craig


The more the merrier in crowded house

Auckland woman Amy Handley still lives with her parents despite being married, having a 2-year-old son and another child due.

She and husband Jake split their time between Amy's parents' home in Oratia and Jake's parents' in Silverdale, where his sisters also live — one aged 16, the other 26.

Jake moved into Amy's parents' home in 2010 when they had been together six months, hoping to get his finances on track, and move out again. Then she fell pregnant with their son, Harper, in 2011.

"We didn't plan on it," she says. "Due to our financial situation we couldn't really afford to move out on our own, let alone with a new babe. I was 22, my now hubby had just turned 21. So I guess you could say it was just best for us to stay."

There are lots of positives in the situation: there's always a babysitter when they need one, and they can escape to the other parents' house when things get trying. "It can be hard at times, not having our own space to do things the way we'd like to, but the positives balance out the negatives and more often outweigh them."

Amy says communication is really important to keep the household working.

"It can be really difficult living with parents, let alone in-laws that do things in ways you're not used to."

Although her parents' home is big, Handley says it's still important to set boundaries.

"We are forever having our parents walking into our bedroom and forgetting that we're adults that need privacy. Be prepared to have whatever couples' problems you may be having become the business of everyone else in that household."

Amy doesn't expect the situation to change for the foreseeable future. Eventually, they'd like to find their own home but, at the moment, it's not financially viable. "There's a lot of adapting to whatever comes our way each week. It's just lucky we're not the type of people who need to be in a routine 24/7."

Her mum, Maria Fastnedge, says she and her husband, Dave, enjoy having their daughter around and she wasn't too worried by the prospect of Jake moving in. "I grew up in an extended family situation, I'm Samoan-Chinese. There are pros and cons, of course, but we love that we get to see our grandson most days."

She says sometimes she'll come home from work and wish the house was a bit quieter, but being able to escape to a family bach in Northland helps. "There are times when you think, 'Oh gosh, can't I just do things just for us?' but we knew what to expect. Sometimes we come home and think it's like having flatmates."

It's different for young families these days, she says. "When we got married we were able to save and buy a house but that's not an option for them."

Fastnedge is renovating the house because she expects that in the long-term her elderly mother may move in.

She says it's important that people thinking of having their adult children move in approach the situation with an open mind. "We know it's hard for them, too. They feel they're living under someone else's roof. We try to let them feel that it's as much their house as ours but I'm acutely aware that she'd like to have her own space."

And she has to make an effort not to treat Amy like a child. "There are times when I think, 'Goodness gracious, she's a married woman with children'. I have to zip the lip. Overall, we realise we've all had to make compromises. The winner is our little grandson. He's surrounded by adults who absolutely adore him. "

- Herald on Sunday

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