Taking advantage of mum?

Rebecca is a student who has moved back with her mum - just what David Cameron has urged young people to do, rather than relying on housing benefit. But, she asks, is this the best plan for either of them?

, 4 September 2012

I am worried about taking advantage of my mother’s good nature. I’m a student and I recently moved back home to save a bit of money (yes, I’ll be paying rent to her once term starts again at uni).

I find myself falling back into old bad habits. I’ll make myself a sandwich and leave the plate by the sink, the day will go by and I’ll think to myself, “I really should wash that plate before mum comes home” but then I’ll go to the library or to see a friend and when I get back the dirty plate will be sitting in the drying rack sparkling clean.

Washing Up.jpgHow can you avoid taking advantage of your parents (particularly your mum or the parent who took the more active role in raising you)? I’ve been away from home for four years and have become used to leaving dirty dishes by the sink for days. Now the standards of decency and civilisation have returned to my life – there’s always food in the fridge and money on the electricity meter. I’m grateful, but I’m finding it difficult to adjust.

Having to work over the summer puts you at a distinct disadvantage from your wealthier peers

I’m a student. However, it’s the summer break and I’ve been unable to find a job. I can’t claim the dole while in full-time education, which means I feel guilty about not contributing to household bills.

We live in temporary accommodation after my dad’s debts made us homeless and, since houses are allocated on the basis of need, as a registered ‘dependent’ I can’t move out now even if I wanted. If I did, the house would be given to someone else and my mum would be rehoused. That’s a horrible amount of pressure.

There’s an assumption that students will have a home to go back to over the summer. I wonder what happens to those that don’t.

I get the maximum amount of funding for my studies every year, which is just about enough to live on in term time, but doesn’t cover the summer months. The expectation is that you move back home and find a job, but you may struggle to find temporary full-time work or wish to focus your time on an internship or summer studying.

In the later years of your degree, having to work over the summer puts you at a distinct disadvantage from your wealthier peers, especially if you need to earn enough money to keep a roof over your head.

Building the system so that your parents are forced to support you just doesn’t seem healthy

This is what’s so insulting about David Cameron’s proposal to scrap housing benefit for under 25s. By your mid-20s, people are getting married, starting and building families. Are you going to move into your childhood bedroom with your partner and your kids? Will you run your business out of the garage where you used to have band rehearsals in secondary school? What about the people whose parents downsized when they moved out? Or left the country? Who are these lucky people whose parents can take care of them forever?

When I turned 18, my dad refused to financially support me any longer. He told me that at 18 I was legally an adult and it was my responsibility from then on to look after myself. That was before the global recession and the rise in tuition fees and the dearth of graduate level jobs – and the rise of unpaid internships, but his position still stands.

And it’s true: we’re adults now and we should really be taking care of ourselves. The government needs to let us do that and stop punishing us for not being born into wealthy families.

Estate.JPGAt 18, things should really stop being about our families and start being about us and the choices we make. Shall I take out a massive overdraft and spend it on a gap year? Shall I drop out of one course and take up another, using a credit card and dodgy loans to pay for the tuition fees for the ‘repeated’ year? Shall I work three jobs and save up a deposit on a house? These are the choices of adults. Building the system so that your parents are forced to support you just doesn’t seem healthy.

It’s difficult to discover radium if you’ve got to hoover the whole house and cook a three course dinner before your partner and kids get home

When you’re a child, you don’t realise how much your parents do for you. Even as a teenager it’s hard to tell whether your parent or parents are cleaning the windows because they like them that way or because that’s the level of window cleanliness that is socially expected. Should I offer to clean the windows in our new home? Is that my job, my mum’s job, the council’s job? Honestly, they look fine to me. It’s stupid to worry about it but I find myself stressing. Am I doing something unethical by not offering to clean them? I would if she asked me to… but isn’t the point to preempt what needs done around the house?

As feminists, we are all about freeing women from the monotony of housework and letting women blossom into their full potential. My mum is a bad cook and hates doing it, but we have to eat every night. Does that mean I should cook? I do, but very rarely. By the time I get home she’s often thrown something together. The feminist thing to do would be to cook as much as possible and relieve my mum of the burden, right? Except I’m happy with a jar of pickles and a beer, which is not really adult food. I can’t give my mum that on a plate.

The whole thing leaves me feeling tired and confused. I don’t want to give her more work than is necessary and I don’t want to benefit unfairly from her labour. I just want to live on my own, but I can’t. I should have filed my own homelessness application. Done the adult thing.

There’s a theory that men were able to achieve so much throughout human history because the basic needs and general maintenance were taken care of by women. It’s difficult to discover radium if you’ve got to hoover the whole house and cook a three course dinner before your partner and kids get home. This is exactly why Marie Curie is such a hero.

First image of yellow rubber gloves next to a bottle of washing up liquid, on a blue surface, uploaded by Flickr user fras1977. Photograph of a housing estate taken by the author of the piece.

Rebecca wishes she could close her eyes and wake up a successful

30-year-old magazine journalist, like the woman in 13 Going on 30.

Comments From You

Virgil // Posted 4 September 2012 at 10:03 pm

I moved home the winter after I graduated, because I couldn’t find full-time work. I worked part time throughout my degree (and yes, the payoff by third year is either grades or sanity).

Even now I’m only working 30 hours a week, but the work is in an industry of interest to me. When I get home I take part in the second shift of housework for a family of six, which is more tiring than my paid employment. I pay housekeeping to my parents, but because I am an adult in the household I also contribute an adult’s amount towards the housework and cooking. In some ways, this is one of the few ways I can cling on to my sense of myself as an adult when I still live under my parents’ roof and don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I wouldn’t expect to live any differently, but it’s not easy. As a young queer person I have compromised my social life and romantic life, for the stability of a secure place to live and the ability to chose my employment. I’ve split myself down the middle and suffer for it.

But I am lucky. I am from a middle class background, with parents who can afford to have me back home and have a good relationship with my family. They live near enough to London that when my current contract ends if I need to I can take on low or unpaid employment. I am glad that I can be so close to my siblings, but I miss having friends. Even when I manage to see them my life no longer really resembles theirs.

I’ve been ill recently and as I’m on a temp contract I don’t receive contractual sick pay. If I had to pay rent to a landlord I’d have been in serious trouble.

I don’t want to undermine the political point of the author. I know what I am about to say plays into conservative values and social policy, but in this situation take what comfort you can from your family relationships. Yes, preempt what needs to be done around the house. It’s not like living independently where rooms remain blissfully unchanged in your absence. (Also, I will never understand the teenage habit of carrying plates to the threshold of the sink and then abandoning them there.) But if you have to live at home then cherish your family.

Kirst // Posted 5 September 2012 at 11:51 am

Whereas I would never understand why someone would wash just one plate. It’s a waste of hot water and washing up liquid. Doing the whole day’s dishes at the end of the day makes more sense and is more economical.

shatterboxx // Posted 8 September 2012 at 12:27 pm

My mum has this problem with my brother. He still lives at home and he’s nearly 22. She’s forever moaning that he doesn’t do enough around the house but I don’t think she’s ever sat down with him and told him what she expects from him. He can cope with lower standards of cleanliness than she can, but if you’re living under someone else’s roof you kind of have to keep things how they want to keep them. It’s just she hasn’t actually laid down the law about it – she asks him to do things as and when, but because she’s said several times that there’s no way she’d ask him to leave, he doesn’t take it seriously. It’s not about extortion, it’s just about treating someone as an adult. I know if I don’t pay my rent, my landlord will ask me to leave. In the same way, I think if my brother doesn’t co-operate with what my mum wants, she should tell him that he won’t be able to live there anymore, rather than behaving in a passive aggressive way and nagging all the time.

madelaine wood // Posted 19 September 2012 at 9:43 pm

I will be one of those people who has no home to go to in october when I return for my final year of university and it is terrifying, if something goes wrong I have no safety net and I will be staying in an empty university town while all my friends go home and if I don’t get a job, which is quite possible as I am chronicly ill and disabled what happens then? it is a very scary place to be in. while I appreciate the point that I am an adult and should be living my own life and making my own choices how can I do that if I’m ill and unable to work, restricting housing benefit affects more than just the restriction is intended to target. hope that makes sense, meds make me loopy!

Michelle Ashton // Posted 22 September 2012 at 8:54 pm

Completely agree with this post. I have spent a lot of this year receiving housing benefit and job seekers allowance and I don’t know what I would have done without it. As a 24 year old I wouldn’t have received it under the planned rule change. I can’t move in with my mum and step-dad as my two 21 year old brothers are currently living there (one of whom is sleeping on the couch due to lack of furniture). I have to rent. This government has just assumed that everyone had the same sort of upbringing as they had so they are trying to force what they would have done onto the rest of us – it’s quite hard to tell who’s who in the current cabinet. They all sound the same to me.

rethink // Posted 25 September 2012 at 4:27 pm

I have mixed feelings about this. As a very independent person who had to move back with my family at the end of a postgraduate degree (that was paid for by my blood, sweat, tears and a hefty loan) I can completely relate to how difficult it is trying to mesh how you ‘choose’ to live with being forced to live by someone else’s rules.

As an entirely different topic, those of us who worked throughout our degree(s), term-time and summertime, invested so much time and money into ‘improving our job prospects’, only to be met with no jobs except the minimum wage ones you’ve been doing since you were 13… THAT is what is so awful about moving back home. You were working so hard so that you wouldn’t need to take that step backwards. That is the con of our generation. I’m not talking about being entitled, I’m talking about being working class and doing everything you can, only for that not to be enough.

My point is that the cost of housing, food, fuel etc needs addressing in Britain, NOT how much money the government is going to give you in benefits. I now live in a different country, where there is no such thing as housing benefit. When you think about it, why should the government support you in that way? Yes, things need to be overhauled, but increasing benefits paid out is not the way. I feel that the focus on entitlement to benefits completely shrouds the fundamental issue here.

Clodia // Posted 28 September 2012 at 4:18 pm

I agree with lots of this post. My daughter would be able to move back in after university as we have plenty of room, but not everyone is IN that situation, especially in families where there have been remarriages/stepchildren etc. I know she wouldn’t want to move back in as an adult, though at least the safety net is there, because you go away to uni to learn to live independently, and forcing an independent adult back into the parental home IF there’s room is no way to go about things as a country. We shouldn’t be forcing people to work for longer and longer; we should be encouraging people to retire as early as they can to make way for the employment of young people.

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