Bittersweet reality of being a boomerang child aged 55

Bittersweet reality of being a boomerang child aged 55: she’s clever, independent and a published author -So why is KATE MULVEY back living in her dad’s spare room?

  • Kate Mulvey, 55, revealed why she moved back into her parents Chelsea home
  • She recalls being engaged in her forties but the relationship not working out 
  • She says in hindsight she should’ve begun trying to settle down in her thirties 
  • She told of passing the opportunity to buy a London flat in the late Nineties  
  • Kate spoke about caring for her ageing parents and her mother’s death 
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My dad stands in the kitchen, angrily telling me to ‘put the butter back in the fridge’. I roll my eyes and mutter ‘whatever’, under my breath, then harrumphing loudly, storm off into my bedroom, slamming the door as I go.

I am not an hormonal 15-year-old. I am a middle-aged, menopausal woman. How did it come to this? How on earth did a successful writer, once engaged to be married and living in a beautiful home in West London, end up living back with her dad at 55?

To say I feel cross, hemmed in, a failure, would be an understatement. My life was never supposed to be like this. I couldn’t wait to leave home. When I went to university, I never, for one moment, thought I’d ever return.

Looking back at my mid-20s, I lived a glamorous life. A roving reporter, constant parties and a dating diary full of eligible bachelors, I was footloose and fancy free. In my 30s, the landscape started to change. Friends either got married or tightly clutched the hand of a potential husband-to-be.

Kate Mulvey, 55, (pictured with her father Thomas, 77) moved back into her parents three-bedroom flat in Chelsea after the break down of a four years relationship

In hindsight, I should have started to think about settling down and making serious plans for the future, but I was young, idealistic and lived in the moment. And I loved being single.

To make matters worse, when I got my first book deal in the late Nineties, I had the chance to buy a London flat. But even though I found the perfect place, I changed my mind and spent the money on holidays instead. That flat is now valued at about £1 million.

Then nine years ago, aged 46, I met Josh through friends at a dinner party. It was an instant mutual attraction. He was a handsome banker and we lived together in his house in Barnes, South-West London.

On Sundays, we’d curl up together and watch black-and-white movies in bed, drink green tea and say how much we loved each other.

When he proposed to me one summer in Italy, I was over the moon. I saw us enjoying a life of comfortable companionship. Just the two of us — neither of us had children.

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Josh bought me a beautiful gold ring with a turquoise stone, but somehow, whenever I dared to bring up the subject of marriage, the reality seemed to scare him rigid. One Christmas in Barbados, as we were lying in bed, I told him how lovely it would be if next year we could do it as man and wife.

Josh completely clammed up and changed the subject.

For the next 18 months, we carried on the same as we always had. Then, one day, just shy of my 50th birthday, after four years together, something inside me snapped. I realised that Josh was never going to commit and told him the relationship was over.

Although heartbroken, I packed up all my stuff and moved out there and then. I don’t know where I thought I was going to live. I spent a few months sleeping on friends’ sofas, while looking for a flat of my own.

But the sheer awfulness of my situation soon became apparent. The property market had sky-rocketed. The stark reality of what I could actually afford on my own came as a huge shock. Buying wasn’t even remotely possible, but neither was renting — a bedsit in London could set you back £1,000 a month.

Kate begun helping her father cope with her mother who was suffering from dementia after she moved back in

When my father suggested moving back to my parents’ three-bedroom flat in Chelsea, I jumped at the chance. It was to be a temporary arrangement.

My mother was suffering from dementia and Dad was glad to have some help. I would live there rent-free, but contribute to the bills.

I thought it would be for a few months at most. Certainly, on the day I lugged my 37in TV and other belongings from my adult life back to the spare room in the flat I last lived in as a teenager, I never anticipated that I would still be here four years later.

The first thing I did was put my stamp on the bedroom; I got rid of the old single bed, bought a new double one, and gave the walls a magnolia makeover.

And to begin with I was happy to be back with my parents, in a lovely flat where I didn’t have to label my milk in the fridge.

My father is an artist and pretty laid back, but what I failed to appreciate is just how difficult it is to adjust to life with your parents when you are an adult.

My naive dream that we would be two generations co-existing in a stress-free home proved to be just that — naive. Life as I knew it came to an abrupt halt.

How many Brits rent a property?

33 per cent of Britons over 50 now rent a property

After years of running my own house, hosting lavish dinner parties with my ex, not having my own space to do what I want and the lack of privacy was something I found hard to adjust to.

Forget a leisurely cappuccino and reading the newspapers. Every morning, all I could hear was my father’s TV blaring. (He is an avid watcher of current affairs programmes. Like a lot of older people, he likes the TV on extra loud, a noise that makes my nerves jangle.)

But it did feel good to be able look after my mother. Dealing with her illness could be harrowing. She would scream out at night if her covers had fallen off or if she thought it was daytime and no one was there. I would pat the duvet reassuringly, telling her everything was all right. At those times my eyes would well up and could feel my heart breaking.

She died a year after I moved in. After that it was just me and Dad rattling around in the flat. My father was consumed with grief. ‘I’ll never see her again,’ he would say, clutching a photo of her when they were younger.

Overnight, I went from being the naughty middle child to surrogate parent. There was a role reversal and for the first time in my life, Dad was leaning on me for support. Two years on and it is still nice to be able to be there for my dad, who is 77.

But what I now realise is that it doesn’t matter if you are 15 or 55, the child/parent dynamic never really changes. I may see myself as an independent career woman, but my father still sees me as his little girl, who has to live by his rules.

Kate says being a middle-aged, unmarried woman living with her dad is a thousand times harder than just being middle-aged

‘Please don’t ask me what time I am coming back,’ I grumble, when he starts to quiz me.

And over the years Dad has become a lot more set in his ways — as have I. There is his bizarre kitchen behaviour. He accumulates large piles of old tea bags and coffee grounds destined for the compost in our small back garden and lines them up on the marbled kitchen countertop.

This has clearly become an issue. But then it is his house and I have to tow the line.

I am not naive enough to think I do not irritate him. He quite rightly complains about mess I leave in the kitchen, the clothes drying on the radiators and the way that I leave the cupboard doors open.

On a sweltering day this summer, as I was happily plucking leaves off the basil plants in the garden, he came out and shoved a pair of scissors in my hand.

‘You have to cut them off at the stems,’ he said, witheringly.

Did I respond with calm maturity, did I heck! My inner teen raised its ugly head. I sighed heavily, rolled my eyes — again — and told him in no uncertain terms that I would get the basil my way.

I love Dad dearly and it is my fault I am back under his roof, but sometimes, I find myself lying awake at night wondering where it all went wrong. It has impacted on my confidence and self-esteem.

There is still a stigma about a grown woman living back home. Being middle-aged is hard enough. But when you are middle-aged, unmarried and living with your dad, it’s a thousand times harder.

Somehow, without even realising it, I have slipped into the role of maiden aunt, that derided central figure in large Victorian families, who gave up on marriage to devote her life to looking after her ageing parents, without complaint.

Only this is 2018. Back in the 19th century, a spinster living at home was part of the social fabric. Nowadays, women are supposed to be super-efficient, independent creatures, with their own flats and high-flying careers to boot.

My friends joke that I am the oldest teenager in Britain. Who can blame them? What could be sadder than a woman in advanced middle age who can’t even bring a boyfriend back for a glass of wine or — God forbid — to stay the night.

Kate says it’s reassuring to have her father always on hand for advice just like in her childhood

My two sisters, one older and one younger, find my situation utterly hilarious. Once a month they all come round for Sunday lunch. And every time the doorbell goes, childish resentment smoulders within me as my sisters waltz in, laughing and content, eat, then leave — to their homes and families. Back to their busy adult lives.

It’s all right for them, I think as I sulkily stack the dishwasher, I am not only burdened with the lion’s share of looking after Dad, I feel as though I have been left behind.

This is the stage of life when many of my friends are watching their offspring going off to university, and I am still stuck at home!

I don’t want to be ungrateful or drown in a vat of self-pity, because there are many unexpected benefits in this new living arrangement.

Unlike many of my friends, who are one pay cheque away from the bailiffs, I go to sleep deeply secure that I have a roof over my head. Unlike a bank or a landlord, Dad is hardly going to evict me.

Besides, Dad and I have always got along, sharing the same fiery Irish temperament and sense of humour.

I have introduced him to the pleasures of Netflix — we are both addicted the American series Designated Survivor — and he will listen patiently whenever I launch into a boyfriend rant. But most important of all, we have found that we have been able to give each other support.

He was always on hand throughout my childhood with sound bits of advice to do with life and love.

It is reassuring to feel that shoulder to lean on once again. And, I am on hand when his grief about Mum overwhelms him.

Earlier this year I heard a muffled noise coming from the kitchen. There was Dad, clutching a couple of bracelets that Oskar — my youngest nephew — had made for Mum. Tears were plopping into Dad’s sandwich.

I took his hand, understanding there was nothing that I could do, except be there when he needs to talk about things.

So what next? While I feel happy to have this chance to get to know my father again, I certainly hope to be moving on at some stage. Of course, one glance at the property prices and I can’t ever see that happening.

On the plus side, I have started seeing a wonderful man, who lives down the road in Fulham. I told my father the other day, how much I liked him.

‘OK,’ he said, absentmindedly, ‘but put the butter back in the fridge before you go out.’

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