‘Tis the season to gather around the hearth for a traditional family get together. And this is all the more important after last year’s damp squib of a covid restricted festive season. Historically, when several generations of families got together, a military style mobilisation from the four corners of wherever was necessary.
To get granny, the latest offspring and various aunties and uncles under the same roof meant navigating clogged motorways and unreliable railway services disrupted for maintenance. But times are changing.
The pandemic has affected the way many of us are living. According to Rest Less, a digital community for the over 50s, the number of baby boomers moving in with their elderly parents is growing. Divorce or unemployment have driven many back to their childhood homes and others have returned to give care and company to ageing parents during the lockdowns.
And there has been a record rise in the number of adults aged 20-34 still at home with more than a quarter yet to fly the nest. According to the Office of National Statistics, 38 per cent of young men and 22 per cent of young women in this age range are still tied to the apron strings.
Kidults at home
Young people have been particularly badly hit by the pandemic and furlough scheme. Many have chosen to move back with their parents to avoid high rents and a precarious jobs market.
This trend for multi-generational living has its pitfalls. I’ve seen parents who are tearing their hair out at their giant twenty something babies hoovering up the contents of the fridge the moment it is filled and loafing around their childhood bedrooms in a regressed state of teen squalor and indolence. Many revert to a ‘kidult’ mentality and quickly become down and disappointed in themselves. Flying back to the nest or never leaving it has mental health consequences for those who want to have the independence to get on with their lives.
Young couples with small children squeezed into a parents’ home while saving for their own rarely have the space or privacy other families take for granted. And empty nesters can well and truly have their feathers ruffled by the noise and chaos of grandchildren they love being with. Just not all the time.
The older generation can be as challenging as any toddler to live with. Nanna and Pops aren’t always sweet and lovely givers of treats and cuddles. Some are grumpy, frail and, sadly, demented. The more dependent an ageing parent, the more kindness, patience and loving attention they need.
So, for some families at least, the novelty of several generations getting together for an annual gathering at Christmas may not have the same appeal if they’ve been living on top of each other all year round.
Familial relationships are uniquely complex and Christmas is a time when tensions can rise and grudges surface. Sibling rivalry, strife with the in-laws, ancient arguments and unresolved differences can make for a stressful festive season. When families get together for a few days and go their separate ways before the New Year, it’s possible to avoid going crackers if you keep your sense of humour.
How near do you want your dearest to be when the tree is taken down and the tinsel is packed away? Christmas is a bittersweet mash-up of what a perfect family life should be like and what it actually is.
The pandemic has brought us closer and in some cases forced us to be closer to our nearest and dearest. Spare a thought for those who have buried their loved ones in this past year and bury your differences with yours for a few days at least if you can.
The cliches ‘home is where your heart is’, ‘you can’t choose your family’ and ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ are never more true than at Christmas and show how mixed blessings can be at this time of year. Make sure you count yours and have a happy Christmas!