Trying to comprehend kids as caregivers
So there I was, feeling a little sorry for myself that I had so much responsibility before I had reached age 40, when I was confronted with today's New York Times story about children and young teens caring for their own parents.
Child caregivers. The very notion makes my head spin. While I feel strongly that children should be actively involved family members, they should not have to literally care for their parents and elders.
The Times article, In Turnabout, Children Take Caregiver Role, describes the heavy responsibility and role reversals:
Across the country, children are providing care for sick parents or grandparents — lifting frail bodies off beds or toilets, managing medication, washing, feeding, dressing, talking with doctors. Schools, social service agencies and health providers are often unaware of those responsibilities because families members may be too embarrassed, or stoic.
Some children develop maturity and self-esteem. But others grow anxious, depressed or angry, sacrifice social and extracurricular activities and miss — or quit — school.
What is it going to take to get us to wake up to caregiving in this country? I feel like we're headed toward a cliff at high speed, and we aren't even paying attention to what is right ahead of us. While sixty-something celeb-gurus like Suzanne Somers are writing books called The Sexy Years, and Slim and Sexy Forever, where do "the rest of us" turn to learn how to craft a meaningful reality with family members who are no longer young, rich, fabulous and as frisky and energetic as teenagers? There is a ton of potential but few guides to point the way.
I have resolved to take three steps. First, to explore Caring.com, where Paula Spencer is a founding editor. I am grateful to find these resources. Second, I am learning about the Divided We Fail campaign, a promising intergenerational effort to work for health care reform and long-term financial security. And finally, I am going to read Mother in the Middle, a neurobiologist's account of caring for her mother with Alzeheimer's disease while she was also caring for her own young family. I've been avoiding that kind of realistic memoir, which may be the honest guide I say I've been looking for.
This conversation will continue....