The structure of the “normal” family is changing. More single parents are supporting families. In two parent homes, both parents often work just to make ends meet. The health care crisis of the country has made it harder to afford quality, long-term care for the elderly. Families often consist of several generations living under one roof. This changing structure has led to a new role for older children. This role is as a caregiver, usually to a disabled, injured or ill parent, grandparent or sibling. Many children from middle school through high school find themselves having to care for someone on a regular basis.
The thought of children as caregivers might make some shudder in dismay. After all, children should only have to be children, right? Although that is true, for some families, there is no other alternative than to turn to older children for help. While many children suffer from the added responsibility, experiencing depression and falling grades, others flourish from the role of caregiver. Yet when children find themselves in caregiver roles, above all they need support.
Start by finding a group support system. Groups such as The American Association of Caregiving Youth provide support for these big-hearted youths. These groups bring young caregivers together. Tutoring, activities, counseling, and other programs help the youths to succeed academically and socially, despite the added role of caregiver. These organizations offer ways for the youths to live their lives as normally as possible.
Then consider alternatives. Even in difficult economic times, its important to remember that kids are kids, and they need a support network around them. An in home health care worker can provide instant relief from the day to day worry. They can be there during school hours. Or provide relief for an hour or two for an activity or club. Or simply provide support while the child works on homework or catches up on a much needed nap.
Kids should be allowed to be just kids, but being in the role of caregiver is not necessarily a bad thing. With this role, they learn responsibility, time-management and, more importantly, compassion. As long as the balance between being a child and a caregiver is carefully maintained, the children can still pursue their dreams without fear. Caregiving for another human being is not easy and should never be left entirely up to a child, no matter what their age. With support, happiness and success is attainable for all.