Posted: 19 December 2019

What Christmas is like for young carers

For many of us, Christmas is a welcome break – a chance to ‘switch off’ from work or school and spend time with family.

But being a young carer can be a 24/7 job which you can’t take a break from. We spoke to two young carers and Luella Goold, service manager at our national young carers initiative Include, to learn about what Christmas is really like if you’re a young a carer.

How is Christmas different from the rest of the year for young carers?

Luella: I’d say the Christmas period brings further stress, loneliness and anxiety. Their caring role doesn’t stop just because it’s Christmas, and they may have to take on added responsibilities over the festive period such as buying gifts and cooking a Christmas dinner.

Young carers are more likely to come from low income families, and this can mean families might not be able to give as much as they want to, which can have an impact on the young people themselves. They might have feelings of guilt or worry about keeping up with their peers. 

Jasmine*, 17: For young carers, there isn't such thing as Christmas - it’s just another day. For many, the responsibility of having to cook a full Christmas meal at such a young age is a daunting thought.

'However, I must stress that not all young carers have this opinion of Christmas.'

Some find that the holidays give them a break from the stress of school, which means they can concentrate on their family.

Sarah*, 22: Christmas differs [from the rest of the year] for young carers because their role never stops. Medications still have to be given, food still needs to be cooked and siblings still need to be looked after.

Of course, there might be other family members around to help, or the young person might get a break from cooking. But that doesn't mean they've stopped worrying or thinking about the next thing they need to do.

As a young carer, do you enjoy Christmas?

Jasmine: Personally, I’m not a Christmas person at all. Since ‘becoming’ a young carer Christmas is just another day of the year, and there is no point of covering up the truth that it hasn’t been the same since.

I mean, a lot of my experiences are due to coming from a low socioeconomic background and I was never the kid who got presents from Santa when I was young. However, the thing that most upsets me is seeing so many people enjoying the festive period and I just can't be happy and joyful about something that is just my normal everyday.

Sarah: I enjoy Christmas because I like being around my family at that time of year. We all try our best to be in good moods, have fun and make the day as good as possible.

'It's not always easy.'

My mum could have a bad pain day meaning she can't really move and then that has a knock-on effect for the rest of the day. It's unpredictable but we always try to make it the best it can be.

Do you think some young carers are looking forward to Christmas?

Luella: For some Christmas will be a real focus, but for others it will just be another day and perhaps not really celebrated as such.

'It will depend on the circumstances.'

We can see just from Jasmine and Sarah’s experiences the different feelings this time of year can bring. 

Jasmine: Yes, because it's a break from education! The fact you don't have to worry about homework or tests or teachers constantly on your back. However, this is a negative as well as it means you don't have a break from home over Christmas.

Sarah: It's supposed to be a fun time of year, so of course some young carers are looking forward to Christmas. It might be the one time of the year they get some new clothes or shoes, particularly if their parents don't work.

But for others it can be difficult - they might not get any presents, or it might just be another day on the calendar. But I think most parents try to make it as special as they can within their means.

What might Christmas day for a child that cares for a relative look like?

Sarah: Christmas day for a child that cares for a relative might begin with organising medications rather than opening presents.

We were lucky enough that my uncle often made Christmas dinner for the whole family, so the evening was spent round there until it was time for bed.

Jasmine: Waking up to make breakfast and helping the person they care for take meds and get ready. Maybe opening some presents if they have any.

Then, sorting out anything that needs to be done for the day to function, then by the time this has been done the preparation of lunch occurs.

Then obviously washing up everything from lunch. Finally getting to sit down (if you're lucky) and then slowly starting to make a dinner - if it’s needed!

After this then the young carer will start doing the daily night routine. Once this is done it means the carer can finally have some time to themselves and will sleep.

It's important to understand that Christmas can be a difficult time for many children and young people. For them, Christmas is broken, but their spirits don't have to be. Show them you're listening.

Pledge #IHearYouth

*Names changed

By Sarah, Jasmine and Luella

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