Novelist Ruth Leigh’s main character Isabella M Smugge has found herself part of the ‘sandwich generation’. But it’s not just Ruth’s protagonist experiencing these challenges, it’s herself too. Here she shares her story.
The UK demographic is shifting; more people are having children in their thirties and forties, and life expectancies are increasing. This means family dynamics are changing. Many of us (myself included) find ourselves battling with the daily challenges and excitement of bringing up children and teenagers while also caring for our elderly parents. Squeezing school runs, shopping, medical appointments, parents’ evenings and so on around a working day can lead to exhaustion and burnout.
At the end of my second novel, the Trials of Isabella M Smugge, the heroine’s difficult mother had a stroke. Unlike most of us, Issy has unlimited monetary funds, a huge house and can afford paid help. She didn’t have to take her mother in to recuperate, but for the purposes of the Continued Times of Isabella M Smugge, she did.
Many of us find ourselves battling with the daily challenges and excitement of bringing up children and teenagers while also caring for our elderly parents.
The character struggles to bring up her four children with only the assistance of a housekeeper, a part-time nursery nurse, a gardener and a manicurist. Her mummy has been installed in the best bedroom and is proving to be a cantankerous and difficult house guest. Her baby Milo isn’t the only one breaking poor Issy’s sleep.
“In addition to my actual baby, my mother is behaving like a child. She refuses to use the walking frame I sourced and insists on having her stick by the side of the bed, not to aid mobility, but to attract my attention. I was jerked awake at 5.32 this morning by loud and repeated banging, having only just nodded off from my earlier wake-up call from Milo. Stumbling crossly into her room, I found her scowling at me and requesting more cucumber water. If she wants twenty-four-hour room service, she should check into The Savoy.”
My own children are 19, 16 and 14 but they still need lots of attention. I work full-time as a writer, am a school governor and in addition to all that, I’ve been managing my elderly parents’ increasing needs. A couple of weeks ago, they went into a local nursing home which has taken some of the weight off, but I still have to clear, clean and let out their bungalow.
How do I manage? With the help of friends and the church community, largely.
How do I manage? How does my character Issy manage? With the help of friends and the church community, largely. It’s terribly hard, though, particularly when the relationship with parents isn’t ideal. Sinking into bed after a full day of caring for everyone, Issy reads an article about the sandwich generation and her own inimitable way, visualises it.
“I do seem to have become part of this worn-out and stressed group. I cast my phone onto the on-trend waffle-texture white duvet and sighed. Issy Smugge never thought she would be the smoked trout and Japanese horseradish filling between two pieces of artisan sourdough, but so she is. #responsibilities #sotired #sandwichgeneration”
Even though I live in a draughty Victorian semi and don’t have staff, I could sympathise with Issy as she struggled to meet her mother’s and her children’s needs. Those who are sandwiched (and there are thousands of us in the UK) will recognise the challenges but, I hope, also laugh at some of the jokes. My heroine can see light at the tunnel at the end of the book and my prayer for my fellow sandwich-ees is that they too will find hope.