Mums in a Pickle: The Sandwich Generation

Caring for young children and elderly parents all at the same time. This is what I would define the Sandwich Generation. It feels mad what I have put myself and my family through….Two and a half years living with Alzheimer’s. When I say living with, I mean, as primary carer and care manager for my demented mum.  In her own home. Till the end.

bread vegan sandwich

We relocated from Acton. I changed jobs, changed my daughter’s school, emptied and refurbished Mum’s Victorian cottage to accommodate us all, adding two bedrooms by cutting in half the ground floor and bathroom. We closed down our independent lifestyle, meaning two simultaneous house moves. Vast amounts of mother clutter had to be disposed of, at antique markets, charity shops and the skip.

My daughter was furious and resentful that she would be torn apart from her gang, her playground, her church. It was frightening for her, and what was she going into? A mad house. Once my mother chased her upstairs, thinking she was an intruder, and slapped her, telling her to get out. I used my Balrog voice on my mother, reserved for extreme and dangerous behaviours in the playground. And she never touched her again. Social services investigated and I committed to never letting them in the same room without me.

P.S. Rest assured, the Acton crew are still in touch and us Mums continue to have a good ol catch up with maybe some circus or stand-up thrown in.

Asian woman having lunch at Cheese Board museum in putney posing for mums magazine

One of our Airbnb guests enjoying a full English!

Before the Great Migration, I asked around for advice. All the professionals I spoke to, all my friends, said don’t do it. I would go mad, my daughter would be traumatised, my husband would leave me. ‘Sell up and put her in a home’ seemed to be the prevailing current. So I did look at a home, a place in Barnes, not for profit. I was advised to visit at lunchtime to see all the residents up and out of bed, and how the staff coped. The elderly sat in a silent droop, imagine zombies with no appetite. All drugged down to facilitate personal care, I learnt later. I can’t do this to her, I thought.

My mother went through hell to keep me. We were alone ‘contra mundum’, in the world of the 70s that despised and punished lone parents. She was disowned by her father. And the collateral knew to stick close, keep its head down and its mouth shut. We were ‘enmeshed’.

Certainly I lost it a couple of times, when her loose stool oozed down her legs and out like a wedding train across the floor, or worse, the carpet. But mostly we adapted. We got carers in for the personal care and sent her to a day centre in Roehampton , a god-send, so I could keep house and run my Airbnb business. All my guests were a bit shocked to see our ménage, but after they were introduced as ‘A friend of Madeleine’, my mother held court. She had always been immensely sociable.



She had a huge collection of Victorian breadboards which I kept and displayed attractively in our front room. After she passed away amongst them, I launched the Antique Breadboard Museum which has welcomed 600+ visitors from around the world. (Crazy)

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A breadboard used for presenting Cream Teas


I’m no longer sandwiched, giving me time and energy to reflect on these struggles, and I congratulate all those Mums out there, over-worked, under-appreciated, who are near breaking point every day but who keep the show on the road somehow. You are the caring backbone of our country. It will get easier. And you will look back and feel glad that you did your best.

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