I Did It
Dr. Kim Shifren
I began caregiving for my mom at age 14.
It happened very suddenly. It was a half day of school, and I came home from school early to tell my mom about a boy who asked me on a date. I was so excited about the boy, and I came home to find she wasn't there. I didn't believe my older brother when he told me she had a heart attack and was in the hospital. I told him it was a horrible joke and not funny at all. Then, someone called from the hospital. I can't recall who now, and told me it was true and to come right over. They were not sure if she was going to make it. My mom was 42 and it was a major heart attack.
I became extremely close to my mom, rather than the typical teen girl/mom relationship. No fighting about silly stuff. I didn't want to have conflicts with her, because I felt so lucky to have her here. I was close to her before the heart attack, but I became even closer.
When my mom was in the hospital I would help keep her clean, do her hair, and help with her food. Once we were home, I continued to bathe her, help her get dressed, do her hair, help her get on and off the toilet, prepare meals and bring those to her. Gradually, my mom was able to get back to doing all of this on her own. She wasn't allowed to lift her arms for a while though.
No one helped me learn what to do; I was on my own. My dad helped out when he could, but he worked full time and assumed that I could take care of things. No one else helped or even thought of helping.
My concerns changed over time. I have done this caregiving routine for my mom on again and off again a number of times: ages 14, 18, 21, 30, 35, and now again at 39. Talk about a developmental experience! I was 7 months pregnant with my son at age 35 and pregnant with my daughter (about 7 months again) at age 39. Once again, I now have a newborn and my mom to worry about caregiving for and my son who also needs my attention. Oh, and a full time job.
My dad still works and tends to leave her home alone with no help. Either I am available to help or no one is there with my mom, even after she has a surgery. He can't afford or won't get help to assist my mom from the Baltimore County Department of Aging. He won't get household help, so he and my mom do the cleaning themselves. She is no longer well enough to be doing anything like that. I am no longer available to help as much because of my young children, and I can't afford to get them someone to help. Even if I could, my dad won't let me hire anyone because he thinks the person will steal from them.
I really had no idea about resources available to help when I was 14, 18, and 21. I knew about some resources, but not that well at age 30 and I lived in Michigan then. It was very difficult from so far away to keep coming back to help. Now I know more, but probably still not enough, and my dad refuses the outside help.
I don't take a single day of my life for granted or that of my family members either. Each day is so precious to me, and I won't waste time on being angry about stupid things. Life is so short and my time without caregiving responsibilities can end so quickly that I enjoy life when it is as normal as can be.
I took a long time to get married and have children because of what I went through. Ironically, it sets me up for doing the same thing to my own kids but with them at a much younger age than I was because I am an older mother. I won't, however, burden my children with my caregiving needs. I will gladly seek outside help and care when needed. I will get long term disability insurance as soon as possible. I will not leave this to my young children. I decided to pursue a higher degree to help others because of it.
Don't feel guilty getting outside help or help from other relatives if they offer it. Don't take it all on yourself and then keep secret about it. It will only hurt you and the recipient in the long run. A great caregiver must take care of him/her self, or he/she won't be around to take care of others. Taking care of your parents when you are a child isn't your responsibility. Your parent/relative is extremely fortunate to have someone as unselfish and giving as you to take on this role. You do have a right to the things other children have, free time to play with other kids and do after school activities, get your academic work done and study for tests. You need this time to grow up.
Kim Shifren, Ph.D.
Towson, Maryland 21252