Ever thought you’d be single, in your mid thirties and still living at home with your parents? No? Me neither. Ever thought that you’d also end up living with grandma or grandpa? Nope? Alas, that is the exact predicament many young British men and women like myself have found themselves in during the past few years.
Having done the right thing and got a good education, built a decent career and social circle and lived independently for many years, only to find the deteriorating economic climate slap you in the face and send you running back home to live with mummy and daddy can be a depressing experience.
Unable to afford a mortgage or soaring rent payments, many young British and Asian twenty and thirty somethings are falling into the demographic conveniently coined by the tabloids as the ‘Boomerang Generation’. We may have been thrown out or left of our own accord, but somehow we manage to find our way back home.
Coming from a well established, close-knit Punjabi clan living in over-priced London, I’m lucky to have the family nest to fall back on. It’s saved me from ending up on a friend’s sofa or dingy bedsit and spending my money on cheap takeaways. Many don’t have that option. But getting back into your old bedroom doesn’t come without a price.
Having your parents keep an eye on your comings and goings is inevitable. But to then have your feisty eighty two year old grandmother comment on your every movement and use you as a convenient domestic help is another kettle of fish. I know this only too well. Once every four months when my grandma comes to stay for a month, I end up being forced to deliver breakfast in bed, cook special meals, iron her clothes and if I’m really lucky help her pluck the hairs growing from her chin (I draw the line at this point).
Then there’s the constant shouting because grandma refuses to wear her hearing aid, or being woken up at two, three and four in the morning by the creepy sound of her walking stick as she rattles up and down the corridor on her umpteenth trip to the bathroom. I won’t even begin to mention the drama that ensues when lazy grandma is forced to have a bath after days of childish refusal.
But all this is bearable. After all, elderly people need help with personal and domestic chores. What is not tolerable however is the ignorance and deceitful behaviour people of a certain age can sometimes exhibit when they should know better. Having been spoilt by my grandfather into not lifting a finger in her own home, after his untimely demise my grandma has come to expect the same level of servitude from everyone with whom she comes in contact.
From refusing to get up to fetch herself a glass of water, picking up her discarded tissues to switching on the room light (even though she is more than physically capable), my grandma is a grand master at making you feel guilty if you don’t drop everything to help her. Failing to understand why her daughter in laws go out to work and don’t wait on her sons hand and foot, despite the need to earn a living being explained to her multiple times, is another one of her specialities. Also out of the bounds of her comprehension is the fact that young people have to go out to school or university. Why can’t they just sit around at her feet massaging her legs while listening to mundane stories about her village?
Her continual need for constant attention and companionship is just the tip of an iceberg. For example, there’s nothing my grandma likes better than to rile up my mother while my father is not in ear shot. I used to think the Saas-Bahu dramas on Indian television channels were far fetched. That was until my grandma rode into town.
Having three generations of the same family living under the same roof is not an unusual occurrence amongst Indian families. The concept of extended families has existed for centuries and served a good purpose. But in twenty first century Britain, or any other modern country for that matter, having several different generations in the same household can be a recipe for disaster. We have grown accustomed to our independence, young and old. Adjusting our lifestyles and plans to suits others for the sake of their whims or unwillingness to change isn’t easy.
And it’s not only my generation who is finding it challenging living with their elders. My parents’ generation are too. Having fought tooth and nail to move out of the family home in the 1970s, my parents like many other first generation Asians settled in Britain, suffered more emotional blackmail than an entire season of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi when they finally dared to strike out on their own. Defying ones family to live separately was, and can still be, a brave thing to do. To have that very family re-enter your life decades later can be equally traumatic.
But what if you find you cannot or simply do not want to live with an elderly member of the family whose presence is unnecessarily or intentionally disrupting? And what if they don’t want to live with you? Is it wrong to want to be rid of them, or at least look for an alternative living arrangement?
Placing your parents or grand parents into residential care or a nursing home remains a huge taboo within the Asian community here in Britain as it does elsewhere. It’s seen as a callous, selfish act and only considered as a last resort. But there are circumstances when this could work for the benefit of both parties. The elderly member of the family gets their own personal space and level of attention and care they deserve, while the family gets some peace of mind. There I said it! I’m sure I’ll be damned.