This is my story, the unspoken burden of being a young carer

Thursday 30 January 2020

Young women do the vast majority of unpaid work and their value, potential and skills are so often overlooked. This Young Carers Awareness Day, we want to shine a light on the incredible ‘unseen work’ so many young women carry out.

In this honest and powerful account of her experience as a young carer, Annie* blogs about how important it is to have high quality and free support systems in place for young carers so that they are able to realise their full potential. 

Photo of young womanIn college, everyone was talking about the different universities they wanted to attend or made plans for their gap year travelling around the world. I knew I couldn't do either, as I had to stay home to look after my mum. Everyone left to start their adventures at university, or went travelling, and I stayed in my family home continuing to care for her like our parent-child roles had switched. 

Craving independence 

After a year I felt that I needed some independence. I craved to be able to start my life as a young adult rather than being held back by my caring responsibilities. I moved out of home, with gut wrenching guilt that never left. With me gone, it became more apparent that my mother was not fit to look after herself. Her health declined. her diet was awful. her home was a mess and her mental health plummeted. I even looked at assisted living accommodation, social work support, carers – but for one reason or another it never worked out, leaving her only family – me - to step up.

Back to my care duties

During my short stint of independent living I worried whether mum was eating, whether she was able to do her laundry. I wondered what she was doing and whether she was lonely. Was I a bad daughter for abandoning her? 

After mum’s health took a turn for the worst, I moved back in with her. This eased most of my worries about her but immediately placed a huge responsibility on me for providing practical support. The work I do includes extra housework (as she’s unable to do very much), cooking, shopping, doing her laundry, helping her dress, wash and move about in bed, encouraging her to socialise, taking her to hospital appointments, taking her out of the house and a huge amount of emotional support. All in addition to carrying out typical care worker responsibilities with some first aid, too. 

I often fear I’ll never be able to live a life of my own and I’m constantly worried for her future and mine. 

Finding work that works 

I know that my caring responsibilities mean I can never move far away. Next time I attempt to move out I will need to make sure I'm close by my mum, and that she has access to accessible transport and is living in a fully accessible home with a care plan. 

I'll never be able to go on a long holiday, spend a summer in another country, pursue job or education opportunities unless they are completely flexible and understanding of my caring responsibilities. 

If I'm not at home to make mum’s lunch then she won't eat, or she’ll eat unhealthy food. I don't have the time or energy to make big meal prep boxes so when looking at the hours of a potential job I need to make sure I can be around to support her at certain times during the day so I can take her to her classes and counselling. This is before I even consider my own needs or commitments. 

I need to make sure that whatever job I do it doesn't take away from the care I provide for my mum, but this means turning down opportunities of jobs in other cities, or long hours. I am going back to school this September, thankfully my local college runs a suitable course because it was my only option. 

Call to action 

We don’t choose to be carers but equally we wouldn’t choose to abandon our responsibilities unless we knew our loved ones would receive the care they deserve without us. Young carers urgently need more support. We need more support groups, extra support at university, flexible working hours at work, access to government benefits and overall recognition of the genuinely brilliant job we’re doing. 

Annie*

*Name has been changed for anonymity

If we're to unlock young women's potential, we must start valuing the unpaid work society counts on them to do. Sign up to our newsletter to find out about our upcoming plans to achieve economic justice for young women. 

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