There are approximately 1.4 million young people in the country between the ages of 8 and 18 caring for an ailing parent or relative.
Chris Miller, 13, is one of them. When he’s not in school, he rushes home to take care of his grandmother, who suffers from nerve damage and vision problems after two botched surgeries and has fallen twice already due to her ailing knees.
“It’s scary…really scary,” said Miller. “A lot of people don’t get it.”
Miller helps around the house washing dishes, cleaning, and mowing the lawn. He’s always worried about his grandma’s health and fearful how one more perilous fall may bring unknown complications.
Like Miller, 14-year-old Aereonna Defau shares a similar burden. Her mother was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer three years ago. When Aereonna is not helping with the dishes, cooking, or making sure her mother is taking her medication, she can be found by her mother’s side doing homework or rubbing her mother’s aching hands and feet.
Connie Siskowski, the founder of the American Association of Caregiving Youth, works with kids like Miller and Defau to provide support and says kids like them can feel isolated and reluctant to share what they are going through.
“They become hidden,” she said. “They don’t want to talk about what’s going on at home.”
That feeling of isolation coupled with the burden of taking care of an adult can accelerate a childhood, a feeling caregiving youth understand.
For young people like Miller and Defau, finding the time to do homework, take care of their ailing family members and still finding time for the simple joys of childhood is a tricky balance.
“It made me have to grow up faster than I should have,” said Miller.