Child Carers

>>  Thursday, November 18, 2010

There has been a lot in the news this week sharing the life of child carers and how much they have to do.  This story seems to do the rounds every 5 years or so where it is raised as a massive issue and the dreadful plight of these children is discussed and then nothing is done, be we all go quiet again for a while, having shown our outrage.  But what I don't see mentioned is the long term effects it has on the child after the need to care is gone.

My father was always ill, right from childhood.  As an adult he was sometimes better than others, but always ill.  When he could work, he did nights. This meant he was mostly at home whilst my mother was at work but also because the night time work load was lighter.  When I got home from school it was my job to go find him (sometimes in bed, sometimes on the settee and when really, bad sat in a chair next to the fire).  I had a permanent fear that I would find him dead, but I didn't share that with anyone.  I would make him a cup of tea, take him his tablets and inhalers and plot his breath flow on the chart (I liked that bit!).

I would then put the cooker on, maybe run the meat through the mincer or start to peel the potatoes.  Once Dad had got himself into gear he would finish putting tea on and go to fetch mum from work.  I would put the hoover over then.  It had to be done everyday because of his dust allergies, but because of his headaches, through lack of oxygen, I did it when he went out.

Now I thought that these sort of things were part and parcel of being in a family.  From a young age I could use knives, the kettle, iron and even work a heavy petrol lawn mower.  Two of my closest friends fathers had already died and I was aware that they also did a lot of things around the house as their mothers worked too. 

I never once took a friend home after school for tea, or did after school clubs.  I did sit for hours with my father having lovely talks, he used to twizzle my hair whilst my head rested in his lap or I would sit on the floor next to the bed and chatter at him, must of driven him mad!!  So my father became my best friend.  I missed the extra effort required to forge life time friendships with school friends.

School holidays were the same, we didn't go off for the day to picnics.  I hung around at home whilst dad slept, being disturbed by us I guess. 'Us' is an interesting point, my older brother took no responsibility at all...he concentrated on his school work whilst I did the 'looking after'.    

Don't get me wrong I had a lovely family, some great holidays and days out and many people would give their eye teeth to have been in my place but my fathers illness and my responsibility to care for him weekdays played heavy on me. I spent many times away from home staying with family, this gave me breaks in the responsibility which was always good.

It is only as I talk to other people about their childhoods, what they remember, what they did, that I realise that mine was different.  I sometimes feel quite sad that I missed out on things that many others seem to have done or parent/child support they had in reverse to me.  But I have to remind myself that it made me who I am.  I can do anything from housewifey cook, clean, iron to DIY, gardening, decorating, anything....because I needed to be more independent from a young age than many.

I am now experiencing some of the things I feel I missed out on through my daughter, so when I do sleepovers for the masses and it's hard work, it is also feeding back to me a little healing on things I feel I missed myself.

My situation was light weight compared to many of the child carers I have been reading about, they need support, they need 'normal' time and they need time to be allowed to be children, allowed to be young.  Carrying responsibility from a young age makes for a serious adult....I don't think I ever learned to laugh from the belly...I love to see my daughter do that...I look at her in awe and wish I could, but I am so proud that she knows how.

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