Written by Sarah Ledger


One flew back to the cuckoo’s nest

As a recently divorced mother of two young children, Sarah Ledger thought that moving back in with her parents might be a good idea. Here, as our week-long exploration of unusual living situations continues, she explains why it was, in fact, anything but.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

When I left my husband almost 20 years ago, he got the house, the car and the money: I got the kids and the moral high ground. I couldn’t find anywhere to live in London on a single wage so I decided to return to Cumbria and move in with my parents. It seemed like a brilliant idea at the time, but it turned out to be a period of the most remarkable non-brilliance.

I was 33, had a responsible job and the aforementioned kids, aged two and five, but once back home, I was relegated to the status of child. And not just any child: a particularly dim-witted, slow-moving, unlovable child.

We were supposed to share household tasks, but my cooking was spurned, my dishwasher stacking abilities were criticised and my use of the Hoover was deemed excessive. My parenting skills were observed and found wanting, as were my table manners, often at the same time: “You won’t get anywhere shouting at them. Now sit up straight and hold your fork properly”.

“My ex-husband – shunned by my parents during the actual marriage – won this particular round of familial snakes and ladders and became the son they’d always wanted.”

I was forbidden to run water after 9.00pm – so no washing or bathing outside the hours of daylight was permitted. And anyway, my parents regarded putting on a wash more than once a week a wanton waste of water and detergent. Meanwhile the music rule from my teenage days – “If I can hear it, it’s too loud” – was reinstated and enforced.

I agreed that to maintain contact with the children my ex-husband would visit at least every other weekend. As my parents have many spare rooms, he stayed under the same roof. On paper that arrangement seemed fine, and I still agree it was the right thing to do, but the reality was torture.

My ex-husband – shunned by my parents during the actual marriage – won this particular round of familial snakes and ladders and became the son they’d always wanted. They’d welcome him joyfully with his favourite dinner – “I know you love shepherd’s pie” – and listen to his crappy old anecdotes about driving up the M6 with rapt attention.

After I’d left him, my ex had transformed from Jeremy Clarkson’s style-free younger brother into a suave black leather-jacketed creature. I wasn’t fooled, but my parents took this as a sign divorce was bringing out the best in him and were sorry he’d been foisted with such a frumpy joyless wife for so long.

I couldn’t stand being the lost boy peering at the new favourite child through the locked nursery window, and every weekend I’d stump crossly around Carlisle buying stuff I thought I’d need but didn’t for my new house. On one particularly miserable Saturday afternoon I bought five sofa throws which, considering he’d kept the sofa, was simply an exercise in wistful futility.

After 11 months and four days, when I’d finally saved up for a sofa and a house of my own, I moved out. I celebrated by switching on the washing machine at 11.30pm and turning my music up so loud everyone could hear it.


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Written by Sarah Ledger

Champion soup maker; of a surprisingly nervous disposition. @sezl & sezl.wordpress.com