Baby boomerangs come back

You've finished university, where next? Probably straight home again, says Fiona Mountford

Like thousands of graduates, 22-year-old Ben Taylor always believed that the deal was this: go to a decent university, get a good degree (and a mountain of debt), find a fairly interesting job, start to pay off said debt, and last, but definitely not least, set off for a flat of your own. Four months after graduation, the job and flat remain a distant dream. In fact, all that is happening is that the interest on his debts has started accruing interest and he is beginning to feel once more like a sullen teenager stuck in his parent's home.

Life after graduation can be a very rude awakening. After the euphoria of finishing finals and having a last couple of weeks of alcohol-inspired madness with friends comes the realisation that you need to find a full- time job. And the obvious place to start all over again is at home.

Home is where an increasing number of graduates return to. Grant cuts and huge increases in student borrowing mean that the average graduate debt is around pounds 6,000, according to the National Union of Students. Add to this escalating rents and it is no wonder home is a good place to find your feet (and food cooked and washing done) for a few months. The past couple of years might have seen an improve ment in graduate job prospects, but Dr Ruth Smith, of the Cambridge University Careers Service, says early twentysomethings are becoming a generation of baby boomerangs.

Graduates who have "come back" reveal a familiar picture of returning home being a reversal of everything university is supposed to be about. "Your parents say you can be independent, but you can't," says Anna Goodger, who spent five months at home after graduating two years ago. She adds a common complaint of feeling she's constantly being watched.

Vicky Jackson, who is living at home while completing her course, confirms this. "You do feel like you're in someone else's house. Everything has to be planned in advance: asking to have people over, borrowing the car, using the phone and so on." The days when you were within staggering distance of friends guaranteed to have a packet of chocolate Hob-Nobs at 4am seems like a distant memory.

Having a job certainly eases the situation, bringing financial independence and some justification in politely ignoring some of the more bizarre parental constraints. But while the job search is in full flow, it can be what Julian Teare, who graduated this year, describes as "a bloody nightmare. To say that I'm being nagged about getting a job just isn't the word - my parents simply thought I would walk into the job of their dreams." Yes, their dreams, that one little pronoun which goes a long way towards explaining a lot of the conflicts. Eliza Mobbs, who has just got a job after more than a year of poorly paid work experience, adds, "A lot of parents don't understand the modern job market, the need to be flexible and gain experience." In a lot of concerned parents eyes, it's not a worthwhile or "proper" job until the wages are in the bank.

Never has opening the post been more of a spectator sport. But as Becky Martin testifies, some parents are never satisfied. Having bagged the "dream" graduate job with Arthur Andersen, she's off on a three-month Raleigh International expedition to Namibia. "My parents feel I should just get on with the job, especially as I had a year out before university."

Ben Taylor wishes he had Becky's pleasant dilemma and longs for the acceptance letter which will put him back on a par with his university contemporaries. "You put a lot of pressure on yourself - you don't want to feel that you've failed," he says, "especially when your friends have already got the job and the flat."

Feeling a failure is not aided by the umpteenth night in watching TV with mum and dad. But don't think parents aren't aware of this, warns Chris Marshall, father of 22-year old Katharine, who has been back at home for the past 16 months. "We know it's a big adjustment for a graduate to come back to a more organised way of life. But it's an adjustment for parents, too. We've been used to our independence and then suddenly the child returns and we seem to be back in the routine of washing, shopping and cooking."

He says there needs to be a compromise, but as any baby boomerang will tell you, mature discussions with the people your pre-university self probably viewed as "the enemy" aren't easy. Especially if you have toy trains still choo-chooing all over your bedroom wallpaper.

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