Coping with coronavirus: the sandwich generation

How do we look after kids and parents during this time?

The term ‘sandwich generation’ refers to people with young children and elderly parents. Although my parents would certainly not thank me for calling them ‘elderly’, this is me. I’m 44, with daughters aged 9 and 12, and parents and in laws in their 70s and 80s. So I’m the filling in the middle.

So far so ordinary, really. But, as I write, we’re in the middle of one of the strangest times our generation has ever experienced. Over recent weeks, the dreaded coronavirus has taken hold, schools and businesses are closing and events are being cancelled en masse. Because we’re not supposed to be en masse any more. Phrases like ‘self-isolating’ and ‘social distancing’ are fast becoming the norm, the toilet paper aisles are empty and it seems like everyone is eating all the pasta. And I’ve found myself asking: How am I going to manage?

Normal life for me consists of a fairly frenetic routine of school runs and ferrying children to and from stuff, planning activities, meeting friends… the usual, really. I work for myself as a freelance writer and it’s not the greatest time to be self employed. However, it does make the childcare aspect easier.

My older daughter is already off school, so I need to now home school her. (As an aside, the school will still be taking children of frontline healthcare workers). She’s being set work and has already promised me that she’ll stick to a routine day, but I’ll need to be making sure she does. What 12 year old wouldn’t want a lie in or to watch TV if they’re not at school? And what about social interaction? My younger daughter will be off from Monday, so I’ll also be giving her some school work to do, so I can have some semblance of a working day myself.

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Staying sane

Now my husband has told me he’s working from home next week. So that will be four of us spending all our time together, when we normally get a few hours together at the most. I’m going to be honest. This won’t be easy. There will be bickering and people getting under each other’s feet. I’m used to working alone a lot, and I like quiet. I’m not going to get quiet. But I am going to get the company of the three people I love most in the world.

We’ve been making lists of things we can do now all the usual activities are off. My youngest wants a candlelight dinner, my oldest wants a quiz night. I want to walk as much as possible, for as long as we can, we have many many movies we all want to watch. We’re going to clean, declutter, decorate, garden (this is the theory, anyway). Read. I want to read.

Keeping a routine

For sanity’s sake we need to find some kind of routine. I’m winging this as much as everybody else. But working for myself and often alone for 12 years has really taught me how to separate different aspects of my life. Here’s what I’m planning to do:

Set an alarm. I am the least morning person ever, but getting up at a decent time in the morning offers a real sense of purpose. So we’ll all be grumbling and complaining at each other in the mornings just like we usually do.

Do the school run. But not to school. As I write, we’re still okay to walk unless we’re self isolating, using sensible measures. Every day me and my family will aim for the same two mile walk I do on a daily basis.

Exercise. I often try to chuck in a quick workout or some yoga if I’ve been at my computer for a while. The kids will still have regular ‘PE’ – whether that’s a Just Dance workout on the Wii, one of the fabulous Joe Wicks’ workouts for children or some yoga. Mental exercise is essential, too. I’ve also recently done a mindfulness course – which was actually mindblowing, in a good way – and am trying to bring meditation into my daily life. I may try to get my family meditating, let’s just say I already know who will enjoy this more than others…

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Play music. Me and my daughters are all learning musical instruments, so while we can’t still have lessons we can certainly keep up the practice at home. We’ll also be doing some singing as it’s massively feelgood, and as we’re in the confines of our home I can’t embarrass the kids too much.

Take breaks. Often people ask if working from home means I eat lunch early, but it’s actually the opposite. I’m always trying to finish something first and it’s often 2.30pm before I have lunch. But with us all at home I think I need to be stricter on this, and take breaks and mealtimes at decent times.

Get dressed. This might sound like a no brainer. But it’s really tempting to stay in your pyjamas or scruffs when you’re at home. Even if I’m working alone all day I still get dressed, do hair and makeup and put earrings in. I might wear leggings instead of jeans as they’re easier to sit in, but it’s a huge motivator. I love slumming about in pyjamas, but I need to earn it.

Keep the TV for the evening. I’ve never been a fan of daytime TV but the kids would easily watch it from dawn to dusk. Again, my philosophy is that we enjoy these things more if we earn them.

That’s the bottom of the sandwich. Now how about the top?

In laws are fairly local, but we’re avoiding immediate contact. We can help with shopping, walking the dog etc. My mom isn’t local, and has decided to self isolate. All of which does make the upcoming Mother’s Day a bit strange. And my dad will likely start isolating soon. We are a close family, used to spending plenty of time together, and this all feels very strange and rather sad. It really is unprecedented but a few plans we have are:

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FaceTime. If I can get my parents to actually use it, this will be great. We can still chat on the phone, but there is something about seeing each other that I think we’ll all find comforting.

WhatsApp. Thank goodness for technology. We already have various family WhatsApp groups and will be using these to share pictures and messages (lots of pictures of us all at home!)

Group activities. But remotely. My mom likes to do art with the children, so has suggested doing an art activity and all posting pictures of the results. Lots of galleries and museums are doing virtual tours, so we can all take one at the same time and then discuss it afterwards.

Games and quizzes. Me and my mom love a crossword, we all love a quiz. So we just need to coordinate our timings and we can still do these things together.

We are all fairly stoical and accept that we need to deal with this and get through it with grace. Protecting our most vulnerable friends and relatives is top of every priority list. I live in a fabulous village, and a group of volunteers is making sure that we’re protecting our neighbours and those in isolation.

The ‘sandwich generation’ is actually pretty lucky. Not everyone has a family, or WhatsApp, or Facetime, or a dog. It’s up to us really to step in.

About Kay Garrett

I’m Henpicked's editor, which means I'm lucky enough to spend my time reading the fabulous articles our authors send in. I'm a massive James Bond fan, an Agatha Christie geek and love films and books in general. Most of my spare time is spent with my husband and our two lively and very lovely daughters.