I was relaxing in front of the TV the other night and I heard the phrase: ‘They fill you with love and drain you of everything,’ and I thought to myself, that is exactly how I feel about being a kinship carer.
My husband and I have been carers for 8 years now and we have passed through the initial shock and the honeymoon period. We’re now finding our way through the teenage years.
Even in the 20 years since our son was a teenager, the landscape of the teenage years has changed massively, and we are constantly left floundering at the technology. These new technologies seem to completely envelop our grandson’s very existence. Everything is available to him 24/7, and we are permanently overwhelmed by the amount of media on offer.
As we entered the spring of 2020 the whole world entered a pandemic. Our grandson was looking to us for guidance on how to deal with this dramatic change in our lives, and as we had never experienced anything like this before, we were just about managing to keep calm and carry on.
Social media seemed to be full of families who were having a wonderful family time, being creative, resourceful and “living the dream”; we were not. Our teenager had decided to shut himself in his bedroom, limit all social contact with the world and eat! Our family and friends were phoning and asking how we were, but it is very hard to explain our situation if you do not understand what it is like to live with a child who has experienced trauma.
Thankfully, we were introduced to Zoom. We started to put aside time for carers in our support group to contact each other every week and just talk about the reality of life in lockdown. It was a huge sense of relief to know that we were not the only ones that were struggling to keep some sense of normality in our children’s lives. We were able to swap stories of family life as kinship carers. We were also able to share hints and tips on things that had worked for us or talk through a dilemma with others in the group. On one occasion our grandson wanted to be helpful and offered to go to the local shop. He was asked to pick up a couple of pints of milk and he returned with a strawberry milkshake and a packet of chocolate buttons! Sharing stories about our life and listening to others in similar situations really helps.
We have also joined Zoom events with groups in other parts of the country, which in the normal course of events would never have happened. They have been such uplifting meetings and had a great focus on self-care, which is so important when we are caring for others, and yet is often completely overlooked.
As we head into winter, I fully expect that our lives will again be reduced to minimum social contact with people and all the stress of home-schooling may well be back on the kitchen table, but it is good to know that other carers are there, and together we will get through these challenges.
I may still be feeling drained at the end of the day and heading to bed at a ridiculously early hour for a grownup. I may still be pondering which of Shakespeare’s plays are comedies and struggling to understand atoms, but I do know that my Grandson has filled me with love and I wouldn’t be without him.
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