Children Caring for Parents
Adults are not the only ones who have caregiving roles thrust upon them; children do as well. Children caring for parents as one of their family chores naturally occurs in the same way as other family responsibilities. In addition, family members take care of one another. Therefore, even if the person with the disability is older or younger than the child, the child’s responsibility to tend to the family member’s needs seems, in a lot of cases, to increase over time.
Whether there is a decrease or increase in how much they help seems to be based on the personalities of the parent and child more than any other factor. Some parents demand help: others try to spare the child from serving the parent. Some children have a servant’s heart and want to care for the one who needs help, while others want to get as far away as possible from any reminders of the impact of the disability.
Children may serve as caregivers in many different types of situations, but here are the most common:
- The parent is physically unable to care for themselves due to illness or injury and needs their assistance for self-care.
- The parent can do some self-care but needs assistance with duties around the house that they cannot manage due to physical limitations.
- The parent has a mental health disorder that affects their memory, causing them to forget such things as feeding the children and seeing to their other needs if one of the children does not take control.
- The parent has a drug or alcohol addiction, and the child must manage the home while the parent is under the influence.
Just as adults suffer long-term consequences from caregiving, children show symptoms of harm, too. For example, teachers, friends, and extended family may notice changes in behavior such as limited social interactions, a decline in grades, decreased interest in activities previously enjoyed, mood disturbances, increased fatigue, personality changes, and “escape” behaviors such as self-isolation.
When attempting to extend a helping hand to these children, approach the topic with caution. Children hide the truth for fear of being removed from their homes by Social Services and permanently separated from their families. In addition, they love and want to protect their parent or sibling, so hiding the truth will likely be a top priority for them.
Parents resist letting their need for help be known for fear of losing their children to Social Services and, therefore, keep their situation secret. The result is that they become trapped at home and unable to reach out for help. While they know they need somewhere to go for resources and answers, they don’t feel there is a safe place to turn. It’s a no-win situation for parent and child.