October 21, 2020

“It’s my job, even if he sends me to the other neighborhood”

Children in school yes, but not their grandparents. This is how the Secretary of Public Health of Catalonia has expressed himself before a sweet family picture that can turn into a serious health risk: older people approaching their grandchildren to the school door, giving them a goodbye hug (a nudge the most cautious) and picking them up again to give them lunch at home, sight the situation of many school canteens. Epidemiologists are conclusive: with more than 57,300 infections in the last week, “the impact of COVID-19 is increasing and mortality could increase if it begins to affect older people.”

The excess of deaths caused by the coronavirus has been primed especially with those over 65 years of age (specifically with those over 74). Ildefonso Hernández, professor of Preventive Medicine and Public Health at the Miguel Hernández University of Alicante, explains that “these age groups must apply the principle of prevention in their lives” and that “taking children to school is a very clear way of being exposed to the virus because we don’t yet know the incidence rates in children. ” Only in the first week of the course, 200 schools have registered cases of coronavirus throughout Spain.

The case of grandmothers and grandfathers was already up for debate at the beginning of the pandemic and, six months later, conciliation remains as difficult as then. “We will always give a hand to our children and grandchildren. We are willing to let them infect us, although the virus will probably send us to another neighborhood,” said the president of the association Abuelos y Abuelas de España in an interview. “The problem is that they assume the risk for themselves and for those close to them, because we have already seen that hospital beds are not unlimited”, warns Hernández, for whom “we cannot reduce everything to a personal matter, each action affects the whole” .

In that interview, Fernando Muñoz was also careful to denounce that “those who work do not find it easy.” “During the months of confinement we were without seeing my grandchildren because, being older, it was a risk factor. Now, things have changed and we are going to be forced to take care of them,” he lamented. An experience shared by Pilar, a 70-year-old off-road grandmother.

“My daughter and her husband are both teachers, so every morning I take the kids to school and pick them up to feed them,” she tells elDiario.es. Sergio, eight years old, is not a problem, he keeps his distance and has a very integrated hand hygiene. Another different thing is Irene, four: “She is super cuddly and, although she knows that there is a bug It is very bad that it can make great-grandmother sick (I live with my 96-year-old mother), she ends up forgetting, “explains Pilar.” It’s my job, but I do have a little fear, “she ends up admitting.

“We will always give a hand to our children and grandchildren. We are willing to be infected, although the virus will probably send us to the other neighborhood”, Fernando Muñoz, president of the association Abuelas y Abuelos de España

The relaxation of security measures in the family environment has been revealed as one of the causes of community transmission. Epidemiologists are aware of this and even more so when children are included in the equation: “The safety distance and the mask are difficult to maintain in this context, that is why I insist that it is the older people who must maximize the caution if they have no choice but to take care of their grandchildren, “says Ildefonso Hernández, knowing that it all stems from a problem of social inequality that most of the time exceeds the control of families.

Reconciliation: the first unresolved box

The second great conciliation crisis of the pandemic was guaranteed before this new wave began. The Malas Madres collective launched in early September a manifesto addressed to the Government consisting of four measures. With them, among other things, “it would not be necessary to resort so much to grandmothers and grandfathers to reconcile with COVID-19, which of course is not ideal,” admits Maite Egoscozabal, founder of the club. “But these recommendations, if they do not go hand in hand with conciliation measures that protect care and ensure that fathers and mothers do so, there is no other choice but to pull these informal structures,” he justifies elDiario.es.

Egoscozabal insists on not blaming the families, but instead shifting the focus to the issues that the institutions should work on: “Favor telework, flexibility both in space and time, adapting the working day or reduction without loss of salary and, in the case that your child is a suspected contact of a positive COVID-19, have a sick leave for the fifteen days of quarantine, “lists the spokesperson, who has been fighting since May for these measures to take shape in the Government MeCuida Plan.

Ildefonso Hernández acknowledges that “these are difficult problems to tackle, because each measure is marked by social inequality.” In this case, that of many families who “cannot afford to hire healthy people for care and have to expose their vulnerable environment,” explains the expert. With the coronavirus, the situation of caregivers grandparents and grandmothers worries about their delicate health, but it is something that associations for the welfare of the elderly have been denouncing for years and for which they have a more categorical name: they are grandmothers and grandparents slaves.

The double slavery of grandparents

Marien (not her real name), from Ibiza, was considered a “slave grandmother” before the pandemic. Twenty years ago she married a man with two children older than hers. “I went from being a devoted mother to being a false grandmother without the last of mine having left home,” he says. When she had finished helping raise her husband’s grandchildren, her children began to have offspring and start over.

“It is ugly to say, but with the quarantine they got used to not throwing so much of us, also because of the fear of infecting us,” explains this retired lawyer. Her partner has a lung condition and they are both in the vulnerable age range (she is 69 and he is 74). Now, she only pays attention to the geraniums in her garden, going swimming at the beach and preparing food for the family once a week. “I adore my grandchildren and my husband’s, but they already have parents and our role is again to spoil them,” laughs Marien.

For Sonia Díaz, from the Siena Association, which promotes active aging and the autonomy of the elderly, that is the big difference. “It seems neither good nor bad to us, if the grandfather or grandmother is well and wants to take care of their grandchildren, it is a pleasure. Sometimes even their reason for living,” he says. “The problem is when they are forced, a very Spanish syndrome,” he argues.

In 2018 they presented a report entitled ‘The figure of the grandparents and grandmothers slaves in Catalonia‘according to which half of those surveyed confirmed that this “slave” figure exists. 46.8% of the caregiver grandparents affirmed that it is a decision they make jointly with their children, while in 30.8% of the cases the son or daughter made it unilaterally and only in 12.6% it was they who decided. “Many elderly people are afraid to resume their activities, their social life or go out as they did before having these high rates of COVID-19, but how can they say no to a grandchild?” Says Díaz.

He also blames this on institutions and the media that, in his opinion, have fostered “ageism” in this pandemic. In other words, putting all the elderly in the same bag. “There are people with 70 years who are in perfect conditions to lead their normal life and also give a hand to their families because they decide so, while there are grandmothers with 50 years who combine” slavery “with two jobs or people of 60 who they have many pathologies, “he says. An opinion shared by the epidemiology expert Ildefonso Hernández.

“Global Public Health recommendations are one thing, but there are others that have to be adapted to the individual situation: level of vulnerability, loneliness or if the grandfather in question has a strong social network,” he explains. Sonia sums it up like this: “Behind every exhausted grandfather or grandmother and slave there is a bad conciliation, and that is something they have to solve as soon as possible so that what happened in Spring does not happen.”


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