If you hear the word ‘carer’, what do you think of? What image appears in your mind’s eye? Is it someone in a uniform, attending to the needs of an elderly man in a care home? Perhaps it’s someone in the community, helping those less able to make the bed, wash, or ping a meal in the microwave? Or maybe it’s someone taking a group of people on a shopping trip, pushing a wheelchair or holding the arm of a teenager with learning difficulties?
What you probably don’t picture, is someone like me. After all, I’m just a mum, aren’t I?
Since leaving my job, I have officially become a full-time carer for Tink. I receive benefits for this – not much, certainly not even as much as the paltry wage ‘professional’ carers earn, but it’s something and it helps me be able to not go out to work. To qualify, I have to spend at least 35 hours a week ‘caring’ for the person who also must receive disability benefits. Of course, all parents spend most of every day caring for their children, so claiming this benefit doesn’t sit too well with me, but needs must. And there’s a lot more to caring for Tink that maybe meets the eye.
She is still very dependent on me for most things; she isn’t toilet trained (yet) so needs her nappy changing throughout the day. She can’t brush her own teeth or wash her face and wouldn’t know or remember to do this if we didn’t do it for her. She can’t dress herself. She can usually feed herself (messily), but can’t cut food and quite often we have to feed her. She has sleep issues, either going to bed late, waking during the night or waking really early in the morning, and when she’s awake, she needs supervision. She doesn’t even go to school full-time yet, despite being of the age when she should be in Reception.
She isn’t yet very good at telling us what the problem is if she feels unwell or in pain. She lacks a sense of danger – we have to supervise her pretty closely; we still have to hold her hand when walking because she’ll either trip, run off or run into the road! One of her favourite things is to run away in big shops – she loves a clear aisle. Just yesterday she ran away in Primark while I was distracted by fluffy pyjamas. It only takes a split-second and she’s gone. Of course, she thought it hilarious that Mommy was running around shouting her name in a panic while she was hiding amongst the pants.
Everything I’ve described above are things that all parents go through, of course. However, Tink is at the age where she shouldn’t need such a high level of care, help and supervision. She should be managing a lot of things by herself now, with, perhaps, just a reminder from us. But, as yet, she can’t. At the moment, I have no idea for how long Tink will need this extra help and care. It could be forever. I see part of my role as carer as working hard with her to develop some independence so that one day she will be able to rely less on me and more on herself.
Being a parent-carer must be one of the only jobs where, if it’s possible, you want to be rendered redundant eventually!