Monday, February 23, 2009

Trying to comprehend kids as caregivers

I was emailing my colleague Paula Spencer this morning, talking about my experiences with caregiving and "Divorce, the Sequel" that has roared back onto the scene 25 years after the fact, as my two single parents head into retirement without partners. I wrote that caregiving has transformed the entire way I look at family and work. I had thought that there would be some mythical mellow period of time after my daughter was old enough to be independent, and before my parents needed elder care attention. In reality, as it turns out, there is always something going on in the family realm. Women, in particular, need to be prepared to juggle work and family our whole lives.

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, 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....

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Anonymous Dr. Connie Siskowski said...

The system needs change but until that happens...and it is likely that it will take some time...the burdens on the shoulders of child caregivers can be lifted with recognition and support services - it takes a community - we need others in communities across America to help with the "turnaround" - the kids are amazing...join with us! Connie Siskowski, RN, PhD - the Caregiving Youth Project and the American Association of Caregiving

7:58 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Dr. Siskowski--thanks for writing in. I want to learn more about your work. I'll try to contact you through your website, or you can reach me through amy (at) mojomom (dot) com

1:49 PM  

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