Failure to Launch Part III: The Follow-Up

Karen and Geraldine during Geraldine’s visit to India

Last week’s series of ‘Failure to Launch’ showcased Karen and her mother Geraldine, who shared their experiences living together in South Dublin while Karen worked in a law firm. Since then Karen has been living in India for a year and a half, completing a fellowship at Ashoka University and training as a meditation coach while living in an Ashram. With the passing of distance and time this week’s follow-up interview is one of reflection and recognition between mother and daughter, and a rumination of the quality of life for Ireland’s younger generations.

Karen:

1. Looking back at the answers you gave last year, has much changed? Would you answer the questions differently today?

I couldn’t remember reading the answers what the questions were and what my responses had been. But in general I can hear my own voice running through them and my answers stay the same mainly because I think my answers are very reflective of the Dublin housing market at that time and I don’t think that the Dublin housing market has changed. If I’m to believe the news it looks like it has worsened. So I stand by my answers so far. 

2. What do you think about your mother’s answers? Did any of them surprise you?

Well obviously I think my mother’s answers were very prophetic. I think especially the line where she says that she’s going to India and India will hopefully be an awakening for her, and maybe a change in mindset and a change in career direction – that all has happened. I probably didn’t give my mum enough credit for how in tune she was with how I was feeling at the time because I think she managed to put into words the deep distraction or discomfort that I was feeling in myself. I wasn’t entirely aware of those forces at work or how I was feeling but she’s managed to really grab hold of that and articulate it. 

3. Before you went to India your mother said that you seemed troubled and unsettled and that she hoped the experience would be an awakening. Did her wish come true?

The wish has come true. She saw into a crystal ball! [laughing]. The wish has come true, as in, again she was spot on about me feeling troubled in Ireland but I don’t think I really understood how much so until I started meditating in India and that has really lead to a whole evolution of consciousness. And obviously the experience in India has given me a lot more exposure to different fields so I started to question whether I really wanted to go into law. Even that questioning itself has just been so beneficial. Because a lot of us don’t really have that space or the time to question, we’re just fed into what we think is the path post college. So I’m grateful for that. So overall, yeah, I do think it was pretty prophetic. 

4. How did it affect your relationship with your mother, the fact that you lived on the other side of the world for a whole year?

I’m quite bad at keeping in touch with family so I work mostly off sending WhatsApp messages every so often. Even because we’re four and a half hours ahead here and my schedule is so packed, I do find it quite difficult to take phone calls. I’ll voice record for friends; I won’t necessarily do it for my mother, but she’s quite insistent with her WhatsApp messages. She sends me probably a message every day if not every second day, saying ‘Hello India xx’. So she makes me feel like I’m the spokesperson of India, which is kind of cute. So we’ll keep in contact that way and she’s coming next week to visit, so that will be really nice. It will be her first time to India. I’ve managed to convince her that she can come and it will be ok, and that she’ll have a nice time here. And this will be the first time she’ll have come so far away from the European continent. 

5. Rent prices in Ireland have reached an all-time high at an average of €1,304 a month* which is 26% higher than the peak during the Celtic Tiger. Can you see yourself living in Ireland again and how do you think you’ll afford it?

I have no idea how I’ll afford it. It is something that plays on my mind a lot. If I was to go back to Ireland I would need a buffer period for at least six months where I worked and saved up enough to be able to put the deposit on an apartment or something, plus one month’s rent. At the moment I just don’t see how my life would be sustainable in Ireland because for me to live anywhere, you’d have to be on such a high salary for you to be able to live anywhere central in Dublin. I still stand by my word that I’m not going near the outskirts to the likes of Meath and I’m not commuting. So it does narrow down your options. I know that with my mum she said to Stan**, whose just come back from Canada, multiple times, that he need to consider moving out soon. Stan owes my mum some money from Canada and only once he pays that back, then can he move out. But even him and his friends are looking at places and the rent is just astronomical. So it is something I’m bearing in mind, it is something I will have to consider when making future decisions about what country I will be employed in.

*According to figures at the time of the interview

**Karen’s brother

6. Like much of our generation you have spent a considerable amount of time living abroad since graduating. What were your motivations for leaving each time and how has this changed your relationship with Ireland?

Probably while my initial reason in third year of college was because it was part of my university degree to move to Paris, my motivation to come back to Paris after I completed my degree is primarily because my partner lived there and I wanted to work for a year before pursuing further education. My reason to move to India was again to pursue further education. I do think that travel really broadens your horizons. I think it’s really important to interact with difference societies and cultures and all of this. So my reason for going to India was also to experience the culture there. And my reason for staying in India was because I found another programme that I wanted to pursue. None of the experiences that I am having here are available in Ireland. The quality of education isn’t there. Certain areas that I’m pursuing wouldn’t be as strong or developed as they are here.

I do miss Ireland in many respects and I do think Ireland is a great place. Especially if we take about our freedoms that we have in Ireland as opposed to India – that does play on my mind a lot. In Ireland women are a lot more free to wear what they want, to marry or not marry when they want. Although gender equality isn’t there yet, it is maybe more of a conversation than it is here. But similarly I do feel a disillusionment with Ireland. I see my generation of people, I hear so much about the housing crisis. It dominates the news and there are several protests where it was college students coming out on the streets and middle class people who were coming out on the street saying that we can’t afford accommodation and leaving. It is something that Ireland really needs to address. That and also healthcare. I was away when all the cervical smear scandals hit the news and the cover-ups. But similarly I was away when repeal the 8th happened. I was in a hospital bed and I was just so proud of my country, so immensely proud. There’s always a dichotomy there, between feelings of love and feelings of, ‘get your shit together’, you’re better than this. 

7. Just looking back over what you said, what your mother said – what are your general thoughts about the interview?

My general thoughts are that I didn’t realise how much my mum is a deep feeler, and how much empathy she must have to be able to read her children with that much detail. And also I just think its really funny. I always knew that she is liberal but there are some things that she wouldn’t really accept that much. I think that really comes through in her interview where she says, ‘everyone is welcome, partners are welcome and I have to adjust to these new morals.’ I think her comment about the fact we live in a disposable culture where people change partners quite rapidly, I think that’s actually a very concise observation about the era that we live in. We do like in a consumerist culture where people just chop and change, people think other people are disposable and you can treat them as such. She had these interesting inter-generational insights. With mine, I think it was just very matter of fact.

Karen and Geraldine together in India

Geraldine:

1.  Looking back at the answers you gave this time last year, would you answer the questions differently than you did today?

Well that’s a very hard question to answer now because she moved to India in July 2017, so I haven’t had the one-on-one experience with her coming since other than her coming home for one week in July of this year. I found a completely different person came home than who went to India. I definitely noticed a big change in Karen, huge.

2. What did you think of Karen’s answers? Did any of them surprise you?

No none of them surprise me because interestingly enough, although we may have had, I wouldn’t have called it fights, we were able to have open dialogue together. So anything that she has said in her answers she has said to my face. And anything I said in my answers, I had also said to her face. I think when she looks back on mature reflection as you could call it on some of her answers, I think she’ll realise that they were coming from a more selfish and indulgent side of it. I’d say she’d have a completely different attitude now.

Of course I wouldn’t want her bringing home strangers to my home and having them there in my house, and not knowing any of their history or anything like that. And that is where the dilemma always arose as to living under the roof with your mother and not having your own place to live. But its dangerous out there. I just think you generation just have so many more multiple relationships, jump into sexual relationships very quickly, and exposing yourself to an awful lot of danger. 

3. Before Karen went to India you said she seemed troubled and unsettled, and you hoped the experienced would be an awakening. Do you think her wish came true?

Absolutely, in its entirety it has come true. She has lived in India for a year with students whose parents have pushed themselves to the Nth degree to make it affordable for their children to get the experiences of Ashoka University. She has stripped back all the layers of materialism that we take for granted over here, and she can now live a much more humble and frugal life and find that far more fulfilling than the life she ever lived over here. 

4. How did it affect your relationship with Karen, the fact that you lived on the other side of the world for a whole year?

We’ve kept in touch regularly, Whatsapped daily, if not certainly every second day, third day. We try and touch base on the phone once a fortnight, once every three weeks. I’m not usually hung up on that, we don’t do Skype, we just ring on Whatsapp and have a good long chat. When she’s have a period where maybe she’s travelled or she’s done something, she’ll ring back, she’ll tell me all of what she has done and I’ll tell her what’s happened on this side. I think this bond has strengthened because with a lot of this meditation and heartfulness of what Karen is doing comes a lot of reflection. And therefore she has a lot of time to reflect on her own life. I think she has tapered her anger and tapered things that were bothering her, she’s managing to unravel. She’s certainly reached the level of contentment that I don’t even think she expected to reach. 

5. Rent prices in Ireland have reached an all-time high at an average of €1,304 a month*, 26% times higher than it was during the Celtic Tiger. Do you think Karen will live in Ireland again and how do you think she’ll be able to afford it?

I don’t think Karen will live in Ireland again. I don’t think she’ll settle in Ireland. She may have to come back for a transition period, but with the studying that she’s done over in India and the meditation that she is doing currently, she has also had a lot of time to reflect on a career plan and is trying to bring that into fruition with further study in China with a view to going down the international relations, diplomatic core, foreign affairs, which I think will be right up her street. I’m so happy to see her out of the field of law, solicitors and barrister, where its just dog eat dog. I don’t think it was ever going to float her boat, it would just have frustrated her. I think she’s probably on a trajectory now that she’s happy with and she’s doing all the right things to make that come to fruition. 

*According to figures at the time of the interview

6. How do you feel about the fact that Karen, like many of her generation, have to leave Ireland in search of better opportunities and economic security amongst other reasons. 

I personally think its fantastic. I have been a traveller myself all my life, from the age of nineteen I was heading off to the continent and we didn’t have any money. We were in a generation where it was safer. You took ferries, got lifts from truck drivers to your destination – that is unheard of in this day and age. If you got into financial trouble we couldn’t ring our parents, there’d be absolutely no question of them sending us money or anything. You found a job no matter how menial until you got your couple of ha’penny together and you got by. It’s amazing how you got by. And therefore when it came to earning money and saving money, we were probably very good at it because from the age of nineteen, twenty, when I was in college I got a strict budget. I got a budget that I had to live on. If that budget was gone, that was tough. Ireland has definitely become prohibitive for any youngster whose trying to climb on the property ladder now.

I don’t think it’s such a great country to live in at the moment. There isn’t an awful lot of prospects out there for youngsters. I haven’t met any of your generation whose happy and content with their lot and kind of going, gosh yeah my life is great. Everybody seems to be looking towards the next step of what he or she is going to do and how they’re going to move on a little bit. The big concern here is how they’re going to afford to buy. You’d get a mortgage for what people are paying in rent at the moment, and yet there’s such a shortage of property. It’s such a Catch-22. I wouldn’t be signing up for that if I were you. I’m not a needy mother where I have to have my children here. I’ve always said to them, and I think they’ll agree, ‘Go. Go and do. Enjoy the world. It’s a big place out there.’ There’s nothing like travel to broaden the mind.

7. Overall, what are your impressions of the interviews having read them back?

Obviously they’re very though provoking. I think Karen and I both answered them very honestly. I think when she reads back over her answers, she’ll laugh. I laughed! Her responses were so, oh how would I describe it, they’re just so juvenile in many ways. Don’t take offence Karen about that. [laughing] They were just silly. ‘Oh I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ Her standard of hygiene. I would be the least clean person. My house is certainly far from pristine. If you’re having friends in and they’re spilling drink all over the floor, I’m not cleaning it up. I think she would be exactly the same. It’s a very funny thing to look back on, the two of us when we were both living in the house together, and now that we’ve been apart. When she came home for the week in July, and I said it to her, a completely different person came back. Much calmer, more reflective. I just find she listens so much more. She wasn’t jumping in with her opinion all the time, telling me it was like this. She was far more at peace with herself and able to listen to a conversation and here what you’re saying and take it on board. Not always being the aggressor and trying to get one up or anything. She was so calm and so happy in herself. It was fantastic to see her like that. 

Karen and Geraldine during Geraldine’s visit 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Failure to Launch Part II: Living at Home

Karen and Geraldine on holidays in Romania in 2017

In part two of ‘Failure to Launch’ I chatted with Karen and her mother Geraldine, who spent six months living together in their family home in South County Dublin when Karen was twenty three. The conversations took place a year and a half ago, when Karen was preparing to move to India for a fellowship and contemplating a career as a barrister. In this revealing and insightful interview we talk money, fears of the future, and the difficulties having sex when you still live at home. Karen continues to live in India, where she is living in an Ashram and training as a meditation coach. Next week’s piece will see Karen and Geraldine reflect on their own and each others answers one year on, having spent twelve months living on other sides of the world.

Karen:

1. How do you find living with you mum in your family home at the age of 24? 

Living with my mum can be very difficult. I think that she had a newfound independence post the separation with my father. She has really reclaimed her home and reclaimed her life, and doesn’t really want adult children hanging out of her hair. That said, she has been incredibly accommodating for me moving back after living in Paris. We do clash on occasion as we have very strong characters. Just in terms of the general set up, I pay €200 rent a month to my mother and that’s just a kind of general contribution towards food and stuff. I don’t but any groceries – she buys them all, she fills the fridge. The trade off would be that I try to do some chores, although she tells me that I don’t do enough. Generally it’s reasonably harmonious, well, in recent months it has been. The only thing I find is there is an expectation with my mother to spend time with her and contribute towards the general family atmosphere and I find that I am too busy to do so.  

2. Do you worry about money?

Yes I do still worry about money, even though I know I’m only making a slight contribution. €200 is minimal compared to what I would be paying if I was paying Dublin rent elsewhere. I do worry about money because obviously I’m saving up towards a masters and I do have to make payments towards that. Living costs can be quite high, and if you’re having any kind of social life that can really rack up. That said, if my money stopped tomorrow all my basic amenities are covered. I’ll always have food and there will always be food on the table. I cycle most places. I generally just need money towards my masters and going out and other necessities. 

3. When you think you’ll own your own home?

Never, never [laughing]. Realistically, considering the line of work I’ll be going into, unless I have a partner I will not be able to afford my own home, not in Dublin. If a mortgage saw [my line of work] they might think I am a risk and I don’t think I would be getting a mortgage on sole income. So I would have to be on a dual income with a partner, and then again I don’t think I would be earning enough to live in central Dublin or even suburban Dublin. I don’t want to commute, I don’t think that’s a quality of life, so I’m not willing to go to the outskirts of Dublin or to stay somewhere like Meath. So that only leaves me with one option, that’s to buy elsewhere and live in a different country. And not until I’m probably at least 33. 

How do you feel about that prospect? Are you scared?

I guess because I feel like everyone is in the same boat I don’t there are many people who have that steady pensionable income jobs. A lot of people are living in jobs that are transitional or transient and are looking at the prospect of maybe having several jobs. There’s not really that same road to success or even progression through the hierarchy that there was historically. So it doesn’t really bother me now, but I’d say it might when I hit late twenties and really start to access the situation it, especially in terms of putting a deposit on a house. There are a lot of people’s parents who will help them out with that but if you’re not helped out where does that leave you? You’re looking at a shitty first home to buy, and I’m not willing to do that. If I’m buying a home I want it to be a home that I really love. I don’t really have the skills to buy a shitty home, do it up, and then resell and then buy a nice home. I don’t have the skills for that and I don’t have the energy.

4. Do you feel like your sex life, dating life and social life is affected by your living situation? 

Absolutely, absolutely. In dating life, if you’re dating someone initially it’s not usually a big issue that you’re living at home. But once you cross that boundary and want to go into a sexual relationship, if both of you are living at home, especially in my home, it is out of the question for me to bring somebody home. It’s not even that my mum is not liberal. She is liberal and she would not mind that I’m having a sex life, I think she understands that it’s just a natural part of the age and stage at which I’m at. Its more the fact that she hasn’t verified this person, and she is so worried that I could bring someone home that could potentially rob something from the house. That’s her main concern. She doesn’t care about the sex life but she doesn’t want me bringing strays off the street and then them robbing her. It’s her home as well. There has to be a little bit of respect in terms of the people you bring here.

In terms of social life as well, equally so. She doesn’t mind me having a couple of friends over for drinks or whatever, so long as I tidy the place afterwards. And by tidy I mean spick and span. It is something that I find I have to raise quite early in terms of dating relationship. You’re looking at the person, and if the other person says “I also live at home”, both of you are like, “Fuck”. You wonder, “God, what are we going to do?” Realistically people are going to have sex regardless of whether they live at home or not, so you have to find other avenues of having sex. And the only other avenues really is to be that horny teenage couple in the park, or to rent a hotel. You miss out on nice things like making dinner together, or “Netflix and chill”, and general hangout time. It becomes very like a courtship, and then very seedy if you have to go the hotel route as well. 

5. Do you feel like your generation comes under fire for you lifestyle choices and spending habits?

I feel there’s a general perception of our generation that we’re selfish, that we’re very much in pursuit of our own happiness. That we are unwilling to put our heads down and do the hard work to actually get those jobs and stay in them, to do the graft and then get the home. I don’t think that’s entirely fair. To a degree the employment life or the work life has shifted. I don’t think those jobs are really in effect anymore, they’re not out there for us anymore. I do find that maybe just looking at our generation, we went through the recession, we saw the hard times, and we went through the boom. I do think to a degree that curbed how frivolous and how out-there we were previously. But there aren’t many of my friends that I would think are good with their money, spend their money well, and know how to save. I would say that I don’t know how to save whereas I think my parents are very good savers. I don’t know where they went wrong on that, or where I didn’t pick that up, but maybe when you see to a degree the amount of work that has to go in behind getting a house, owning a house, paying off a mortgage, sometimes you just look at the outcome and think, “That’s not something I want, that’s not something I’m willing to do.” And I think that’s ok as well. 

6. What is the best and worst part of living with your mum?

The best thing I’d say is to always have a backup there at home. When you live abroad or out of home, you do feel like everything falls on your shoulders and you have to be very independent. Whereas it is nice, especially if you have a mind-block or if you’re anxious about something, to go home and discuss with someone like my mother in person, to get her life experience and her opinion on something. Sometimes she talks absolute shite and doesn’t help me at all, but oftentimes even having that conversation will make you reflect differently on the issue and then you can move forward with it. The worst thing is definitely not having that space to invite people over, or make people dinner without having that anxiety of having to clean up. Or, are we using the correct glasses, or if something smashes WWIII is going to break out. Having that element of clean up directly after to her standard, I think that’s the worst thing.

Karen and Geraldine in 2015 celebrating the end of her law exams

Geraldine

  1. How do you find sharing the family home with your adult child?

Karen has only moved back home in the last six months and it has been a challenging time. She has lived outside of the home for the best part of three years. Two assertive women, two opinionated women, two strong women; it required an adjustment period and a lot of negotiation on both our parts. I find it challenging because I’m separated, her father and I don’t live together and that brings its own challenges. She sometimes feels that she needs to go to him if things aren’t going her way in the house, which I don’t agree with. It’s now my house; she lives here under my terms and conditions. Karen is very independent and likes to come and go when she pleases and having lived away, finds it very hard to adjust to living in a family home and “my house, my regulations.”. She has come onboard to an extent but I have said to her on occasion, “A twenty-four year old girl vs her mother living together in a house is very difficult”. It is difficult to find common ground and negotiate a communal living that we can both agree on. But in general, it works! 

2. How old were you when you first moved out of your family home?

My experience is probably a lot different to what my children have experienced. I went to boarding school at twelve years of age. My mother had remarried the year I went to boarding school, therefore we were moving to a new place to live and it was only a place we went to on the school holidays, a new place completely. We had stepbrothers, stepsisters and stepfather. Fortunately for me I was only twelve so I adopted tremendously, integrated really well, loved my stepfather, went to live on a farm, loved the farming life. It worked very well for me! Having said that, I moved to boarding school at the age of twelve and I never went home. At eighteen I was in college. As we moved to Tipperary I was living in Dublin for school days, college days, so I never actually went back home to live with family, with my mother or stepfather. So it was a completely different lifestyle for me. I’ve always lived more or less independently. We had our allowance, we had our budget, we rented our accommodation. We went to college, we got a job and then we got married. That’s how long I’ve been out of the family home. 

3. When did you buy your own home?

I got married in 1990 and we bought our first house in 1993, so I’ve been living here twenty-three years. 

4. How do you feel about Karen bringing home friends or sexual partners?

The house has always been open to Karen, and any of my kids, bringing home anybody. I firmly believe their generation is completely different to how we grew up. I firmly believe that friends are very welcome, partners are welcome. I mostly prefer to think if they’re in a relationship, no matter how temporary, that they are able to bring home that person to the house then going out somewhere, having to rent a room, or whatever one does when one is that age. It’s completely different to the way that I was brought up but I am completely on board with that. 

5. What is the biggest difference between your generation and Karen’s generation?

We never had an open relationship with our parents. We had left the family home from a very young age. We would never discuss anything personal, sexual, or anything else with our parents. We went home to their house and we obeyed their rules. If we brought someone home we slept in separate rooms. We just adhered to their rules. There were very decent people but they lived a very conservative life, and we respected their lifestyle. This generation, we have had to go with the flow and accept their new nuances, their new morals. I would like to think the house is open. I don’t agree going through various partners or umpteen people. I’d like to think that that they would meet and settle, but I think they’re of a very disposable generation where its very much based upon self-gratification. You need to be very careful and you need to realise what you’re doing. I think it’s going to be very hard for Karen’s generation, or any of my kids, to meet the person who’s going to fulfill all their criteria. They’ve had it all and now I’m not sure they know what they really want. 

6. What do you think of Karen’s lifestyle and spending habits?

Well Karen has a very unique lifestyle. I think she is a woman who definitely hasn’t found what she’s looking for. She comes from a family, particularly on her father’s side, of serious intelligence and with that intelligence comes serious challenges. She seems to be in pursuit of something that I’m not quite sure is out there. She has to follow her dream. She’s off to India now in a few weeks time. She’s going with her heart, having done a French law degree. I’m hoping it will find her some peace of mind and some direction of where she wants to go. To me, at the moment she’s very unsettled, very troubled in many ways, and as a mother probably won’t discuss it with me but with her friends. She’ll get there; she’ll definitely get there. India may well be an awakening for her, an opening of her mind and a complete change of career and direction. 

Expenditure, again, she probably doesn’t fully realise the value of money. Again, she will get there. She’s living at home, virtually rent free as she’s paying only a nominal rent. I’ve given her money to survive in India, which she’s going to pay back. But life is tough. Earning money in Ireland is tough. She’s going to have to come back and she’s going to have to realise how she’s going to afford to live and divvy up the expenses. At the moment she probably isn’t fully aware of the cost of living, as are many of her generation. 

7. What is the best and worst thing about living with Karen. 

It’s lovely having a female living at home. I had only one other son living at home, one daughter living in Paris. We probably don’t get enough time to bounce off each other because she lives a very full life and she likes to socialise. She’s not here much. But we did go on holiday together which was fantastic for both of us, just to have that one on one time. I find her fascinating and interesting and do love having a female presence at home, but, at twenty-four years of age its time to move on Karen. Go live your own life! [Laughs] 

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.