Anna Maxted on the returning students who stay and stay and stay
ON HEARING that her 21-year-old daughter has mentioned that she would like to move out, Shoshi Fridberg's tone acquires a disbelieving edge. "Shana told you that?" Well, when she has enough money. "She will never have enough money, because she spends it!" Mrs Fridberg retorts. "I tell her to put some aside, but every month she's broke. I don't think she'll be able to cope outside. We provide her with everything. It's very comfortable for her." She adds wistfully, "The two years that Shana was at Sheffield were a holiday for us."

When sons and daughters return to the confines of the nest after the glorious freedom of university, the transition can be a shock - for their parents, that is. One would expect most graduates to choose grim independence in a mouldering bedsit rather than face the ignominy of residing with Mummy and Daddy. But many ex-students, confronting the stress of work or job-hunting, after three years of living off tuna and pasta in a pokey room, reckon home comforts outweigh the hassles. Most parents dutifully welcome back their precious offspring, but - washing, ironing, and food bills apart - they have a lot less to gain from the arrangement.

Mrs Fridberg, 45, has attempted to lay down the law: "I told her that she can't live here for ever. We have the feeling that she will stay with us for that long because we provide her with everything. She has all the facilities. She has a special slave clearing up her mess, doing her washing. She goes to her room and it's as clean as in a hotel. I don't like arguments, so I tidy up after her rather than argue with her. She's always too busy to do it herself. She says, `I'm in a rush,' or `I'm on the phone.'

"She goes through my clothes and sometimes I can't find any of my tights. She uses the bathroom when I'm supposed to be using it, and I have to wait. She leaves it in a big mess. I go in after her and tidy up every single thing. But she's got to learn. Otherwise she's a nice girl." Mrs Fridberg adds doubtfully: "Maybe all girls are like this?"

Shana has lived at home since her graduation last June, but despite the five-star service, she would not be there if she was burdened with wealth. "When I finished university I had no money and no job," she says. "That was the only reason I went to live at home. When I came back from university, I wanted to do the things I couldn't do at college, like go on holiday and buy nice clothes. I couldn't rent a flat and go on holiday and buy nice clothes. I got the things I wanted to get by living at home and saving money."

Money is the crux of the matter. The job market remains as shrunken as a wool sweater in a hot wash, and paying a landlord an average of £80 week plus bills is hardly an option when you are unemployed. Six months after course completion, only 43.9 per cent of graduates were in permanent UK employment, according to a 1993-4 survey by the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (Agcas). Many who do have jobs are in low-paid work with an uncertain future.

Shana is now employed, but reckons it will take her six months to save enough to move out. She suspects her parents won't beg her to stay: "I think they'd prefer it if I got my own place. That's a bit of an uncomfortable feeling." Although some children become aware of outstaying their welcome, their miserable financial situation encourages them to brazen it out. Self-indulgence at the cost of parental approval is a lesser evil than independent poverty.

Ben Dale, 22, is living at home in north-west London, after graduating from Leeds University last year, because he can't afford to move out. He says: "My father thinks that I use the house like a hotel. I get on better with my mother than with my father. It's due to lack of space and freedom and the fact that I have to abide by their rules. My father also can't stand the disturbance of my friends phoning.

"He also asks me for financial assistance, because he feels that I'm sponging off him. I do contribute, but he says it's not sufficient. I love my parents dearly, but my father has his own patch, and now I'm back and I want my own patch and I can't have it. At my age he was [adopts paternal tone] paying my grandmother hundreds of pounds. There's anger and animosity there at times."

Ben's mother, Priscilla, is more charitable, describing the homecoming as "not extraordinarily difficult." She says: "Benjy is a reasonably sane individual. He only gets annoyed when he needs to use the phone or if he comes home hungry and dinner isn't ready. He doesn't do it in a nasty way, but he certainly expects to find food in the fridge. I find that harder than anything. And use of the facilities - he's not a selfish boy but he likes to be able to use everything when he likes. The other big difference for me is that my ironing has quadrupled."

Emilia Dowling, consultant psychologist at London's Tavistock Clinic, says: "It's difficult to reorganise yourself if you've become a family of two people. The return is complicated for everybody, because the children will have developed an autonomous way of behaviour. But parents should not feel put upon. Offering a room is not the same as offering a blank cheque. They can make demands."

She also points out that many parents see their children off to college with a sense of "That's it, they'll never come back." Often, the wrench forces them to accept that their babies have grown up, and then they begin to indulge their new freedom.

One 26-year-old who enjoyed a two-year sojourn at her parents' home after graduating recalls the insult she felt when, the day after she finally departed, her bedroom was briskly transformed into a study for her father. Her mother says feebly: "I don't want to sound too rotten about this. We only did it when she had a proper place to go to."

She may be relieved to know that tap-dancing on the phone bill when your children leave for good doesn't brand you an unloving parent. According to a study by the psychologist Bernice Andrews at the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, the common view that women find middle age difficult because of loss of youth and the "empty nest" syndrome is unfounded. They are more likely to perk up when their children leave. She explains: "When children go to college it lightens the burden a bit. Some parents miss their children, but for many it's a relief."

However, beleaguered parents with a full nest need not despair. It's still possible to claw back a desirable quality of life, Mrs Dowling says. "Parents do not need to be self-sacrificing, otherwise they resent every moment. If they set boundaries, then good relationships can be maintained. But it's also important for the young person to talk about what is intolerable for them."

Mrs Fridberg hasn't found the solution that simple. She and her husband are about to leave their spotless house in Shana's hands for a week. "I know we will come back and find it messy," she says gloomily. "She says that she will tidy it. I know she won't, but she says I've got to trust her." With about as much conviction as an agnostic, she adds, "Maybe she'll surprise me."