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Growing up with caring in the family

For many of us, caring is simply part of family life. We may have grown up with a parent, sibling or grandparent who needed care, or maybe as a parent we can see how caring is shaping our family life. Three people open up about the challenges, the memories and the lessons they learnt from growing up with caring at the heart of their family.

Russell – "I think growing up with caring in the family has made me more aware of other people and what they may be going through"

Russell looks back at how helping to care for his mum Sandra – who had a physical disability all of her life – shaped his childhood.

  • Photos: Russell's mum Sandra in hospital. Russell with his wife and his dad on his dad's 70th birthday.

Russell Toms mum at hospital"For me, caring was just part and parcel of growing up. Everyone in my family pulled together to make it work. We’re a close-knit family and lived close to each other, so mum’s twin sister and my grandparents were always helping out. When I was younger my mum was in hospital constantly, and my dad would work all day then visit her in hospital. My grandparents would look after me for months at a time.

"Don’t get me wrong, things could be tough. But it’s part of life when you’re born into that situation. Mum was determined to not let her disability hold her back, and would struggle on even when she was suffering (sometimes paying the price later). I can remember the one and only time that mum was able to take me out on my own, using her sticks. I was about five or six years old, and we went to the cinema to see Snow White. After that she always had to use her mobility scooter or with the help of someone pushing her in a wheelchair.

Russell Toms"My dad gave up a lot to care, and when I was about ten years old gave up work so he could give mum the full-time care she needed. At the time I didn’t notice it so much, but with hindsight I can see the frustration and stress  they must have had experienced. But he did it because he loved her, and because he saw it as his duty as a husband.

"The way I see it, you can be bitter about the tough things life has thrown at you. Or you can use it to mould yourself – see the positive side and try to make the most of it. I think growing up with caring in the family has made me more aware of other people and what they may be going through.

"I had a good upbringing and a loving family. Above all I remember how upbeat mum was – she saw the best in people and was always up for a laugh or a bit of mischief!"

Kiera and Rory siblingsKim – "I guess growing up with someone whose needs are different and sometimes much greater than your own teaches you this"

Proud mum Kim tells us about how looking after her son Rory – who has autism and learning disabilities – has enriched family life:

"Caring for Rory can be very tiring and lonely sometimes, but I wouldn't have it any other way. Rory is a very happy and vivacious young man – he can talk trains 24/7 which sometimes drives us mad but he's also very funny!

It's been difficult for my daughter Kiera at times, especially at school with her family being 'different' to her peers. However she's now just turned 20, and is in her second year at university, studying English Literature. She is much more empathetic and inclusive in her thinking than others her age – I guess growing up with someone whose needs are different and sometimes much greater than your own teaches you this! I am immensely proud of them both."

Eve – "I'm his friend, and will be throughout his life"

16-year-old Eve has grown up helping to look after brother Cole, who has a learning disability, autism and a range of other conditions. This year Eve has spoken to each year group at her school in assembly about what it is like to have a close family member who has a disability.

The speech focused on what it's like to be a young carer, and how important it is to be more understanding. Here's the video Eve made to accompany her speech:

Young carer support

  • Thursday 28 January 2016 is Young Carer Awareness Day.
  • If you are a young carer, you can visit the Carers Trust website to find out what support is available. They have online communities where young and young adult carers can connect, share experiences and access information and support – visit Babble for young carers under 18, or Matter for young adult carers aged 16 to 25.

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