Tag Archives: Adult Season

Young Carers and their Mums

I watched a very moving documentary last night on BBC3 (another from their ‘Adult Season‘) about young carers and the challenges they face. Tulisa Contostavlos, who is apparently part of some pop group or other (I’m showing my permature middle-aged-ness here!) was a carer for her mum who has mental health difficulties. She talks about her experiences and visits a handful of the estimated eighty-thousand young carers in the UK, seeing how they cope with the demands on them and juggling school, friends and future plans.

A lot of the themes of this programme resonated deeply with my own experience. My mum used to have pretty severe OCD to do with cleaning – it was never diagnosed, but she wouldn’t to this day think her behaviour was odd in any way. When we (my younger brother and I) were young, she used to spend six days out of seven cleaning the house, week-in and week-out. Making mess, however minor, was the worst thing one could ever do. It got to the point when I was a teenager were we were told to go to bed at 9pm because she needed to rest but couldn’t go to sleep if she thought the sofa was messy or the bathroom sink hadn’t been wiped after people had cleaned their teeth. She only ever left the house to go to the Post Office or corner shop, and I was never allowed friends around in case they made a mess.

Added to this, when I was around eleven years old (I can’t remember exactly), my brother developed a bowel problem that resulted in frequent painful rushing to the loo. The combination of a clean-freak and a messy illness that took ages to diagnose and get properly treated was a recipe for disaster. Home life was constantly tense, and as my father took refuge in work, I was left basically to be the adult, dealing with my brother and mum crying on my shoulder. It was very lonely and bloody hard work.

As well as practical support and maybe respite care for young carers, one thing shown in the programme was the benefit of having other young people facing similar issues that they could hang out with and talk to.

Both Tulisa and another lass, Hannah, talked about feeling isolated and of their own resulting mental health difficulties. I was first depressed when I was about twelve, and part of the reason I’m sure was feeling that I had no-one I could talk to. My parents didn’t seem to realise the odd-ness of mum’s behaviour, and the family dynamics were such that I felt treated as somehow inferior to my brother.  Teachers would have to have gone to Social Services, and I didn’t want to cause trouble. The lack of being able to go out or feeling able to explain this to my friends led to more bullying. I would have been so grateful for someone I could trust just to listen, rather than having to bottle it up.

I love my mum more than I could express, but I doubt she (or my father for that matter) would be able, looking back, to see the situation as I saw it. It has taken quite a bit of counselling to deal with it all. Knowing that she’ll always be the way she is to some extent has helped me let go of unrealistic expectations of her that were making it hard for me to forgive. These days, we have a decent relationship, even if she never listens!

The positive relationships the young people had with their mums were very encouraging, and remarkable given the burdens they had to shoulder. It shows how, as my own mum said recently in a different context, love can conquer all.

Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum

On BBC3, there is currently a series of programmes as part of their ‘Adult Season’, some of which have been really fascinating and moving. There was a programme about a young woman about to get married who wanted to decide which of the various father figures in her life should walk her down the aisle. Another was about a teenager whose mum is a glamour model (read page three girl) and her journey into adulthood. Her mum has real issues about body image and is addicted to plastic surgery. The programme shows what happens when such surgery goes wrong, and the difficulties mum had of letting her daughter take her own path in life.

Now, having just praised several of the shows, there are some programmes that are far more like Jeremy Kyle – truly awful but an occasional guilty pleasure. ‘Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum‘ comes into that category. It’s about a group of young people, ranging in age from seventeen to twenty-three, whose parents are fed up of their lazy and selfish behaviour. None of them have ever held down a job and some can’t even manage basics like doing laundry or cooking a meal for themselves. Each week, they are given a work placement and are sharing a house together. Their parents get to observe their behaviour and each week the young person voted the most useless has to leave, the eventual winner getting a cruise as their prize.

It would be tempting to have a real go at the young people about their uselessness (the trailer shows a twenty-year-old man getting his mum to wash his hair because he couldn’t be bothered) and blatant immaturity. In the first couple of shows, it was obvious that the only things they seemed to know how to do were giggle uncontrollably at everything, get drunk, fight and sponge off others. Some of them supplemented the household budget by stealing from shops and their bosses. None of them seemed capable of taking anything in life remotely seriously (hence the continuous giggling), of resolving arguments without resorting to shouting, or taking any pride in work.

However, the young people themselves seemed very much to be the products of their parents. One woman seemed to think stealing was perfectly fine, that promiscuity is normal and that using people is acceptable, which explains her son very well. They seemed to struggle to accept that their precious offspring could ever be in the wrong and couldn’t deal with their child being criticised, making excuses for them and setting almost non-existent standards. It reminded me of a time I told a small child off for throwing something at me, and her mum threatened to “f**king kill me”, saying that no-one could discipline her except her. I don’t envy that child’s teachers!

At this point, I should put my hands up and admit a degree of uselessness at eighteen. I’d been in a caring role for a fair percentage of my adolescence and so could do most household tasks, but had never been allowed to cook for myself in case I made a mess (my mum was a bit of a clean freak, to put it mildly!). My first meal at uni was burnt toast and overly runny boiled eggs. Thankfully, school cookery lessons meant I didn’t starve or end up existing off pasta (nice as it is) but it took me a while to get used to doing some things for myself. However, one thing I was not for my many faults was feckless.

It seems to me that clear boundaries and expectations are very important in bringing up children, as well as parents being able to deal with other adults correcting their children if necessary. My teacher friends have complained about the difficulties they have had when parents come charging into school whenever their child is told off. It makes it very hard to maintain discipline in the classroom. Similarly, if the parents in the programme don’t want layabouts for children, they need to get their act together and learn to say ‘no’, for starters. Easy for me, with no children, to say? Yes, perhaps, but my years of caring and working with kids in various contexts have taught me that parents and children need to be really that, not friends, at least until adulthood when there can really be an equal relationship. Young people need nurture, care, praise and encouragement. They also need boundaries.

Any thoughts?