Young Carers: when children nurse their own parents

Michelle Baron is 19 years old, lives in Mainz, and cares for her mother Martina, who was diagnosed with lung cancer 10 years ago. Martina had just received retraining as a nurse when she received her cancer diagnosis. Since then, Martina Baron has been unable to work, and her daughter Michelle has had to take on much of the work that falls as a rule to parents. “I cook, do the laundry, take care of the housework, help her to get dressed and undressed. And when she wants to take a bath or shower, she likes to have me there as well. I don't need to do anything, but my presence helps to calm her. My mama often suffers from shortness of breath, so she doesn’t like to be left alone. She needs my support.”
The need to care for elderly or ailing people is one of the most discussed topics of our time. As a rule, light is shed on this issue, in all of its details, by those affected and by caregivers. There is virtually no public awareness, however, of the daily burden borne by children and young people who are obliged to care for parents or family members. In Germany alone, this problem affects approximately 250,000 young people. Many of them care for a sick parent. Caregiving children and young people are forced to grow up very quickly.
Many of these young people don’t perceive themselves as caregivers, and for this reason may never seek or receive the support they need, and are hence often overwhelmed by daily life. Sacrificed all too often is sufficient time for school, hobbies, and friends. For young caregivers, the process of launching a career can be far more difficult than it is for their friends. A move to a new city to accept a dreamt–of study opportunity, a change of location in order to receive occupational training – such decisions become an emotional balancing act. They are never free from worries about their parents. These young people have learned to defer their own needs – and this can be disastrous for their future lives.

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