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In a society where family ties traditionally play a prominent role, Greece’s deep economic crisis apparently offers a few Greek mothers a reason to be happy.
While financial hardship may have forced many to seek their fortune abroad, it has also obliged an increasing number of young people to return to the family nest, where they are fed and provided for by parents often more than happy to have their children back.
The old jibes that used to taunt grown adults — and men in particular — who still relied on their mum’s cooking are starting to lose their edge, as it becomes more acceptable to return home.
“I think most young people today don’t choose to live on their own… and it is very nice for us parents to have our children close by. Even if some of them move out, they return to the family for financial reasons,” Matoula Dovinou, a 38-year-old mother from Athens, told AFP.
For mothers whose children are living independently, there is still the option to dote on their offspring, thanks to one young start-up.
Founded in September, the small family-run company Vanakias has found a niche in delivering to students and young people freshly made, healthy nosh lovingly made by their mums — with the added benefit of steering them away from their takeaway habits.
“Instead of sending money to their children every week, parents can save money by sending packages with food [that will last longer],” Vanakias co-founder Dimitris Balomenos said.
“The venture kills two birds with one stone: saving money and eating healthily.”
“Sending fresh food that I have cooked is definitely healthier and cheaper than sending money,” said Dovinou, who uses Vanakias to send food to her only son, a first-year university student in the western city of Patras.
Traditionally, young people have been keen to move out of home, “but now, students living on their own feel the crisis”, Balomenos said.
“Children accepted into schools in places away from home often cannot go for financial reasons.”
Jobs are also hard to come by, with the unemployment rate for young Greeks aged 15-24 now standing at a whopping 64.2 percent.
With economic circumstances curbing their freedom, young Greeks are having to change their ways.
Balomenos points to a popular television advert for a mobile phone company where a young man shamelessly drops in for his mother’s cooking, after boasting about the benefits of living “independently” in the attic of his parents’ house.
“Five years ago, you would have called this guy an idiot!” he said.
But “this ad turned out to be very real”, said George Adamantides, the creative director behind it.
When it first aired in 2011, the ad was designed to portray a crafty youth who manages to have it all, but in the context of today’s harsh economic reality, it has taken on new meaning.
“In the months that went by between the first and the second time it aired, it became so in tune with the times in ways we had not thought of,” Adamantides told AFP.
Sociologist Laura Maratou-Alipranti, research director at the National Centre for Social Research, believes Greek society is reaching the point where moving back home is not only nothing to be ashamed of, but is even promoted as a lifestyle choice.
“Living with one’s parents is becoming more guilt-free… We now have advertisements promoting family meals, cooking… Greeks are changing,” she said.
The crisis has strengthened solidarity within the family, she said.
“Because of a delay in the development of social welfare ties in Greece, family has always had a stronger role in looking after its members,” she told AFP.
“Now, because of the financial situation, family members find themselves turning to the family again [for support].”
This retreat to the parental home, Alipranti says, is however reversing a growing trend in recent years for young Greek couples to separate from the family and live together before getting married.
Now “they now decide not to move in together, or those who did return home, either because they lost their jobs or because they cannot make ends meet”, she said.
But even if going back home puts that insecurity at bay, director Adamantides is not convinced it is an easy move.
“We should not forget how emotionally painful it is to find oneself in the position of being forced to return home,” he said.