While all caregiving has its commonalities, being a young caregiver definitely has its own unique challenges. Being thrust into a caregiver role at a younger age, when my mom at the age of 57 had a debilitating stroke, I was faced with all the “common” caregiver challenges but at a time in my life when it was least expected and with absolutely no warning. I immediately left my career, my home, my friends to move back home (2,000 miles away) to do everything that was humanly and sometimes inhumanly possible to help my mom. I did this on instinct, and most people will say “well you do what you have to and I would do the same”; but as any caregiver knows this simple isn’t true. Not everyone would do this. And really I don’t think you know what you will do until you are faced with it.
I had no idea how I would handle a situation like this until it happened to me. Being a caregiver, especially at a young age, is a huge sacrifice. I don’t regret it, but sometimes I can’t help but feel that I am missing out on some of the best years of my life.
During my 20’s, I mostly focused on my career. I was always a very driven person and while I had one or two serious relationships during that time; I was not ready to “settle down”. In my mind, I felt like that’s what my 30’s would be for. Had I been able to predict the future, I would’ve married my college boyfriend and starting having babies immediately. Ok, maybe not, but the idea of it sure sounds good now (laugh). So, here I am, one year into caregiving and I just started working again (my career had to be redefined too). Frankly- I am struggling just to juggle the two.
Meanwhile, my friends and acquaintances are getting married, having babies, buying houses, etc. Sometimes I feel like everyone is moving forward, and I am frozen in time. I barely have time for the simple pleasures, such as a pedicure, let alone have the time or focus to build a family. I wonder if and when I will I have the opportunity to fulfill my own hopes and dreams? As a young caregiver, and in my particular situation- this is my biggest challenge and fear. But while this is like being an “iceberg” for me, there are many other challenges unique to young caregivers out there. These are others that I have experienced:
The acceptance of a caregiver role at a time in your life, when you just don’t expect it.
Innocence lost. Having to deal with sickness and a world of responsibility so young, and knowing you will never get that back.
Lack of understanding. While most of my friends have been very supportive, they have never been caregivers. Their intentions are well-meaning, but they can’t relate and it’s very hard to understand what you go through unless you have been through it.
Support groups. I have been to many, and felt completely out of place. Everyone in the room were generations older than me. While they stared at me with pity- they couldn’t really relate to me either. Hence the online blogs and support forums-. I found this a much better outlet for me.
The loss of a relationship as you knew it. Role reversal. I watch my friends moms support their daughters and enjoy their grandchildren; walking down aisles at weddings, babysitting, etc. Even the typical annoying things- mothers getting overly involved, preaching on how to raise their grandchildren. I will not have that. The nature of my relationship with my mom has changed. I am thankful for our relationship now, but it has been redefined. My mom can no longer be “a mom” to me.
What a young person should be doing. I should be having fun, building a career, traveling, finding love and having a family, going out with friends, etc. This is where a certain lack of freedom plays a huge role. Can I do some of these things as a caregiver? Yes. I try hard to find the time whenever I can. But no matter what I do, where I am, I no longer have the freedom of being worry free. Once a tragic family health situation occurs where you become a young caregiver, freedom and innocence are hard to get back.
To all young caregivers, whether you are caring for your spouse/significant other, a sibling, or a parent, don't think that you are alone. There are many of us out there to reach out and share experiences such as mine.