Retired Grandparents Are the Unsung Heroes of the Pandemic

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When I got a text from my son’s daycare in March that they were closing as a precaution to protect staff and children from the coronavirus, I didn’t flinch. I opened up the group chat I share with my husband and my mother-in-law and asked the same question I’ve asked countless times before: would she (and my father-in-law) be able to watch our son tomorrow? Then tomorrow bled into the next day and that turned into weeks. Before we knew it, there was no end in sight.

Despite the terrible circumstance the global pandemic thrust all families into this spring, I’m the first to recognize the extraordinary privilege of my particular situation. My husband and I are fortunate enough to both have jobs — and neither of our jobs places us on the front-lines of the pandemic. Our son isn’t in grade school yet, so he wasn’t being asked to participate in Zoom classroom discussions (and as parents, we weren’t being asked to add homeschool teacher to our resume). Beyond that, we live just a few towns away from my retired in-laws. And said in-laws, who my son adoringly refers to as Gigi and Poppa, are both in good health themselves. Previously a crucial part of our family’s “village”, they were now a crucial part of our quarantine pod.

For nearly three months, Gigi and Poppa were the backbone of our family unit. And if I’m being honest, they still are.

My story is no anomaly. For nearly three months — the amount of time my son’s daycare was closed — Gigi and Poppa were the backbone of our family unit. And if I’m being honest, they still are. For four days a week, they would watch, care for and dote on our son. They would take him on walks around the neighborhood with their dog, amiably watch hours of his favorite TV show, sing the alphabet and make sure he was eating something that resembled nutritious meals. That fifth day each week, however, is the reason I am completely indebted to them.

For two sexagenarians, chasing a not-quite-two-year-old boy around for eight hours a day was exhausting work. They understandably needed a break. And having nothing but gratitude for the way they were helping my husband and I stay afloat at work, objecting never even crossed our minds. Every Friday it came glaringly obvious that watching our son while working from home would never have been sustainable.

And for many, it isn’t. Plenty has been written about the mental, emotional and physical toll parenting through the pandemic is taking on the parents. While barely eking out the absolute minimum work needed to get done in order to keep our jobs intact, my husband I would take turns between working and watching him — neither of us putting in the equivalent of a full days’ work. It became apparent that if every day were Friday, something would have to give.

When our son’s daycare opened back up in June (with more protective measures in place than we could have imagined), we were thrilled to get him back into a space where he could play and learn with his friends again. But as our nation’s coronavirus case count grows and schools try to reopen as best they can, experts have warned of a second wave of Covid-19 (despite the fact that in actuality, we’re still very much in a first wave) and of possible need to bring back shelter-in-place orders. We’re not naive to the facts and know that we might find ourselves opening up the group chat to send the same text we’ve sent so many times already. And I’m forever grateful that the answer will in all likelihood be yes, even if only for a few days a week.

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