Self-Isolating In A Multi-Generational Household, I Feel Trapped – And Very Lucky

I’m acutely aware of my lack of personal space, but I have never been more grateful for the company and support in my home.
Getty Images
Getty Images

When I got married and moved in with my husband and his family, my friends and colleagues were a little apprehensive. Surely there’ll be loads of arguments? How will you have any privacy?

But, coming from a traditional Muslim household, I was unfazed. I had grown up living with grandparents, uncles and aunties – to me, this was the norm.

Living with in-laws, spanning three generations, meant my kids always had cousins to play with, I had an abundance of babysitters, and we never felt bored or lonely. Or, at least that’s how I felt until Boris announced a nationwide lockdown. Only then did I suddenly become acutely aware of my personal space – of lack thereof.

So, what’s it like self-isolating in a house of three generations?

Weeks into quarantine and the living room is now a communal area, where people and children gather to eat, play, fight, make TikTok videos and – if we can hear over all the screaming – attempt to watch the news. This very means that, much to my dismay ‘Netflix and chill’ is not an option.

Even my beloved bedroom is no longer a safe haven because my husband, who’s been furloughed, has parked himself onto the bed for the foreseeable future, unsure what to do with his new found free time after working six days a week for the last ten years.

“Most days I find myself hiding in the loo to conduct important meetings.”

Working from home is also not as glamorous as LinkedIn had me believe either. Conference calls are near impossible when there are so many people living under one roof, meaning most days I find myself hiding in the loo to conduct important meetings.

Winding down in the evening means fighting for the last seat on the sofa and trying to pick something suitable to watch for all ages and languages (there is no such thing, can someone please make one?)

Then there are the WhatsApp conspiracies that circulate the household faster than coronavirus itself. One such theory told us not to open the windows or doors at night as helicopters would be flying above to spray disinfectant over the entire UK.

And it’s not just me. Several friends living with extended family messaged me furiously approximately three hours into lockdown to moan about their mother-in-law hogging the remote, or to complain about their husband’s inability to wash up after themselves.

Before the lockdown, a demanding full-time job and two young children kept me busy, which meant I was hardly at home – and when I was, my time would be spent running around after the kids. Weekends were more relaxed because I had a surplus of babysitters if I ever needed to pop out or see friends. But now, with no office to escape to, or coffee shop open, I’m left feeling increasingly trapped.

But with the threat of coronavirus only growing by the day, I find myself constantly worrying more about the safety of our family. This fear is amplified even more so by recent reports suggesting Muslim households are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. It’s a solid theory if you consider that many Muslim homes, like ours, consist of extended families, and elderly relatives seldom live alone.

“We belong to a culture where the concept of self-isolation is in direct conflict with our beliefs and values. My mother in law has found turning away visitors difficult.”

Then there’s the risk of transmission that comes from living in a multi-generational household. I’m not great at maths but more people usually equals more chances of infection.

Luckily all members of our household have taken the quarantine seriously, only stepping out for essentials, but I’ve heard of relatives living with in-laws who have family coming and going as they please or ‘popping in’ for a cup of tea.

The problem is that we belong to a culture where the concept of self-isolation is in direct conflict with our beliefs and values. For instance, my mother in law, who takes great pleasure in hosting impromptu family gatherings of twenty-plus people, has found turning away visitors difficult. Being the perfect hostess is something that’s been ingrained into her through a culture of hospitality that could rival The Ritz. I’m not even exaggerating: my husband once invited a friend over for lunch and she insisted on serving him at least eight different dishes.

Despite the challenges of self-isolating with a family of three generations, it’s of course not all bad. I haven’t yet felt the absence of eating out because there’s always a steady supply of delicious home-cooked meals in the kitchen (see above). My kids don’t miss nursery or their friends because they get so much attention at home from grandparents, uncles and aunts. And my mother-in-law can finally take a break from playing hostess to focus on her health and wellbeing.

At a time when Brits are more isolated and lonely than ever before, I count myself as one of the lucky few who has a large support system around me. I just need a bigger loo, with decent wifi coverage.

Sami Rahman is a freelance writer and communications specialist. Follow her on Twitter at @bysamirahman

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