When you meet someone new, do you ever hesitate, even for a moment, to think about who you are? I do.
Allow me to introduce myself…I am a married mum of 2 beautiful children. They are strong, smart and savvy and I love them with all my heart. My son has a really funny sense of humour. My daughter is passionate and caring. My husband was my childhood sweetheart and forever the love of my life.
When my children were younger, I was known as the mum with a very sick child. Then I became the mum who was sick herself. And all the time my daughter hung in there.
When her brother was sick, she would get his medication for me and measure it out. She’d stand with the neighbours as we drove off in the ambulance to hospital, again. When her brother was in hospital, she would sit on his bed and do puzzles, read to him or just sit with him. When he was home sick, she’d worry all day at school. When I was home sick, she refused to leave my side and didn’t go to school for more than two weeks.
When her brother was really sick, she’d walk past his bedroom at night to check on his breathing and then come and tell us that he had a high temperature, or that he was wheezy and needed his medicine. To be really honest, the concept of a ‘Young Carer’ was never something that crossed my mind. I had never heard of the term. I know I felt torn. I felt guilty when my son was sick and we missed my daughter’s athletics carnival. I knew my daughter needed us, and yet we were at the hospital more than we were at home. When she had homework to do, and her brother was sick, she did her homework by torchlight and lifted the chair to move it so as not to disturb him.
When my kids were younger, I went through so many emotions all the time. I felt sick all the time. I was worried about having a very sick child. I spent each day bouncing from one appointment to the next. I also worried about my well child, who I didn’t have the time for. I waited for the phone call from school every day, to tell me my son was sick, had broken another bone or had an allergic reaction, yet again; or, to tell me my daughter was at the nurse, again. She would have a headache, or a sore foot, like her brother. The nurse would give her Panadol, or crutches. She was crying out for attention. I knew it but didn’t know how to help.
One day I heard about an organisation that could help with a mentor for my ‘well’ child. Someone to hang out with her, just for her. This was the first time there was someone coming over just for her and she loved it, and I know I should have been grateful. I should have been relieved. But I felt guilty. I wanted to be the one to give her the time and attention she needed. I felt her pain but felt that there was nothing I could do.
Then I got sick. My daughter was older now and knew how to use Dr Google. My son cried, he told me I was the one who looked after everyone, who was going to do that now? My daughter went silent. She refused to go to school. She ran away numerous times. This time I saw the pain, it was on her face and in her heart. And in my heart. And my son, he just cried. Mums don’t get sick. That’s what he told me.
I was so used to doing everything, advocating for my kids, who both had their own sets of challenges. I wasn’t prepared to be the patient and need others to look after me.
They’re older now. They’re young adults and they still adore each other. When my son is in hospital now, his sister still buys him puzzle books and sits and does them with him.
I still live with lots of health issues. My kids are both incredibly compassionate, caring, strong and resilient. Last year my husband was in hospital with a back injury. And then I was admitted with a weird viral infection. Our kids sprung into action. They brought pyjamas and shampoo. My daughter organised my son. She organised herself and she organised her grandparents. They visited every day. They were so capable. They didn’t complain. But I know it was tough.
I can’t remember the first time I heard the term Young Carer, but I wish I had heard about it years ago. It would have explained so much and validated my daughter’s role. She has always been so much more than just a kid, a daughter, and a sister.
Every year when my son was in school, from prep through to grade six, I met with his teachers and spoke about his health issues and what they should do and how they could help. I also spoke to my daughter’s teacher, to explain about her brother and the impact this had on her and how they could help. How much this was followed really depended on the teacher that year. Some got it, others not so much.
I am, and have always been so insanely proud of my family. We are a strong, resilient and funny bunch. Life is tough but we support one another. We have shared lots of laughs and lots of tears over the years. But we have survived and will continue to do so, as long as we have each other.
By Lisa Buchner