|Me and my boy|
Brennan is definitely part of a growing demographic. In 2001, it was estimated there was 108,000 thousand young carers in Canada - this number only represents a conservatively estimated number of children under 18 who are actively involved in caring for a parent due to a disability (albeit it chronic health conditions, depression or substance abuse problems). Further to this, it is currently thought that 10% of all people under 25 are primary care givers for a family member. These numbers do not encompass children like Brennan - I am still employed full time and although I am limited in my ability, I am not technically classified as disabled. This number also doesn't take into account the many, many more children who act as translators for new Canadian families or other type of assistance young children often provide to their parents (or even grandparents). These extra responsibilities puts a strain on young children who often don't know any different so they accept this as their normal, as children always do, but we need to realize that these children need something extra in the way of care for them.
We've all heard of adult care givers burning out from caring for aging parents, I saw, it happen with my mother. My grandmother was 'full time work'! Between Gramma's failing health, doctors appointments and daily needs, my Mom was raising two children, was recently divorced and worked full time. She hit a wall and thankfully, my father was able to 'swap' roles with Mom, but I still saw the affects the years of caring for her Mom had on her.
So imagine if you will, in addition to having to go to school, be a kid, learn everything (because you're a kid and so much of life is a whole bunch of 'firsts'), you've got to care for a sick parent? What would your life look like?
Now although Brennan is an incredibly compassionate, caring and amazing young man, I have to ask myself are his needs being met? We are told frequently that he is a one of kind child, a gem, a gentle soul - we've heard it all. He is incredibly helpful (from holding doors to moping floors, he does it all for anyone who wants or needs the help) in part because I'd like to think he wants too but also because I think he knows he needs too.
So what can we do for young carers? We can make sure they have the information to do the jobs we ask - although my son doesn't deal with my medications (he does watch and freak out when I give my injections), he does know how to get my ice packs ready, hug me gently and knows how to help me get dressed. Ensuring we provide them recognition for the jobs that they do. From a 'good job' to sharing the work they do with others (teachers, family, etc). I know personally it's incredibly embarrassing to have to admit that he helps me get dressed but I need to ensure those who are with him frequently understand the extra commitments he has. So they can share in the praise but also because they can get a better understanding of what he may be facing at home. Finally, giving them support! Allowing him 'down time' where there are no responsibilities, finding support groups for kids like him or allowing him the freedom to sometimes not do something that is typically expected. After all,, kids need to be kids too!
I don't have all the answers but I know have some knowledge and I am working to ensure my young carer, my precious baby boo, gets the chance to be kid and not worry about the problems at home.
For more information, please check out some of these resources:
Hospice Toronto - Young Carers Division - this site has a great landing page with tons of 'instant' information. Highly recommend!
There does tend to be a serious lack of support for these extra special kids. Can't find something in your area? Start a movement - the internet can be a good place to start trying to find others in your situation with young kids. Even having contact with other children who understand the special relationship they have with their sick parent can help immensely.
Thank you for reading - this has become something very close to my heart and the more people we can get the word out too, the better!