3 Incredible young carers and their stories

Thousands of youngsters across the country are supporting family members living with illness, disability, mental-health problems or substance abuse. We hear three stories of courage, hope and inspiration.

Meg's Story

“I spend my entire time putting a brave face on”

Young Carers

Meg, 17, lives in Warwickshire and cares for her mother Annabelle*, 46, 11-year-old sister Holly* and brother Max*, who’s eight.

    “I care for my Mum who has bipolar disorder, my 11-year-old sister who has ADHD, and my eight-year-old brother who has learning difficulties. I get up around half six, see how Mum is and take it from there. If she needs a lot of help, I make packed lunches for the children, walk them to school and then go on to sixth form college. I text and call through the day to check Mum is OK. After college I collect the kids, do my homework, help the kids with their homework, make dinner, do the laundry, get the kids to bed with a story between 8pm–9pm, sort out clothes and school bags for tomorrow, then check on Mum and see if she’s taken her meds. If there’s time left, I’ll watch some trashy TV, play video games or do more homework before going to bed about 11pm. 

Mum was diagnosed as bipolar before I was born. When she and Dad separated, I was eight, my older sister was 11 and my little sister was two. Mum didn’t want to get out of bed and would say, ‘I don’t want to be a Mum anymore.’ I thought it was me making her cry every morning. It was terrifying. Me and my older sister cooked, cleaned and did the washing. When I was nine, Mum had my brother Max. Having two younger siblings was difficult. I broke down when I was 14 and Dad, who lives in a neighbouring town, apologised for not realising that we kids would have to look after Mum.

Now I see him once a fortnight. He helps me financially and gives me lifts with the food shopping. My older sister left home at 18, so I’ve been looking after Mum and the kids on my own. Mum has good and bad days. When I was younger, it was six bad days to one good. Now it’s around three bad days a week— thanks to professional help, sorting out her medication and Mum’s hard work in counselling. On a good day, I can live a relatively normal life. On days when I can’t leave her, college are very supportive. Mum can get angry and frustrated with herself, and takes it out on other people. I have to stay patient and calm.

I also care for my sister who has ADHD. Holly gets really excitable and crazy. I calm her down and let her know when it’s appropriate and to what level. I’ve got her into a set routine and offer her choices if she has a meltdown: ‘If you have a tantrum you can walk to school yourself. Or you can calm down and I’ll take you.’ And my brother Max is two years behind his academic year. I worked out that he was fighting at school because he was frustrated. I got trained in ‘catch up numeracy and literacy’ and do four 15-minute sessions with him every week. We’ve worked with the school and set him weekly targets. The stress can get to me when I’m on my own at night or when I’m at college and know what I’ve got to go home to.

The other week, I started crying in college and did nothing all day. I spend my time putting a brave face on. It’s stressful at exam time— I keep thinking, Am I compromising my future for my family? I’d like to move away to uni, but can I put the responsibility I’ve had on my shoulders since I was eight onto my little sister? What gives me the right? Hopefully my Mum will be able to look after my brother and sister. My older sister lives ten-minutes away, so she can look after the kids if Mum needs help. Some days, Mum starts crying and says, ‘I can’t live without you. You can’t ever leave.’ My boyfriend helps keeps me on track when Mum’s on a downer and saying hurtful things. He reminds me, ‘You know it’s not true, she loves you.’ I go to a group at The Warwickshire Young Carer Project Charity and have oneto-one support from a project worker who’s a young carer herself. I know I’ve missed out on the carefreeness other people of my age have, but I’ve gained in more areas than I’ve lost. I’m as mature as friends who are ten years older. Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult and sometimes I wonder how I’m going to get through it. But this is my life and I just get on with it. I wouldn’t change my situation for the world.”

Mum was diagnosed as bipolar before I was born. When she and Dad separated, I was eight, my older sister was 11 and my little sister was two. Mum didn’t want to get out of bed and would say, ‘I don’t want to be a Mum anymore.’ I thought it was me making her cry every morning. It was terrifying. Me and my older sister cooked, cleaned and did the washing. When I was nine, Mum had my brother Max. Having two younger siblings was difficult. I broke down when I was 14 and Dad, who lives in a neighbouring town, apologised for not realising that we kids would have to look after Mum.

Now I see him once a fortnight. He helps me financially and gives me lifts with the food shopping. My older sister left home at 18, so I’ve been looking after Mum and the kids on my own. Mum has good and bad days. When I was younger, it was six bad days to one good. Now it’s around three bad days a week— thanks to professional help, sorting out her medication and Mum’s hard work in counselling. On a good day, I can live a relatively normal life. On days when I can’t leave her, college are very supportive. Mum can get angry and frustrated with herself, and takes it out on other people. I have to stay patient and calm.

I also care for my sister who has ADHD. Holly gets really excitable and crazy. I calm her down and let her know when it’s appropriate and to what level. I’ve got her into a set routine and offer her choices if she has a meltdown: ‘If you have a tantrum you can walk to school yourself. Or you can calm down and I’ll take you.’ And my brother Max is two years behind his academic year. I worked out that he was fighting at school because he was frustrated. I got trained in ‘catch up numeracy and literacy’ and do four 15-minute sessions with him every week. We’ve worked with the school and set him weekly targets.

The stress can get to me when I’m on my own at night or when I’m at college and know what I’ve got to go home to. The other week, I started crying in college and did nothing all day. I spend my time putting a brave face on. It’s stressful at exam time— I keep thinking, Am I compromising my future for my family? I’d like to move away to uni, but can I put the responsibility I’ve had on my shoulders since I was eight onto my little sister? What gives me the right? Hopefully my Mum will be able to look after my brother and sister. My older sister lives ten-minutes away, so she can look after the kids if Mum needs help.

Some days, Mum starts crying and says, ‘I can’t live without you. You can’t ever leave.’ My boyfriend helps keeps me on track when Mum’s on a downer and saying hurtful things. He reminds me, ‘You know it’s not true, she loves you.’ I go to a group at The Warwickshire Young Carer Project Charity and have oneto-one support from a project worker who’s a young carer herself. I know I’ve missed out on the carefreeness other people of my age have, but I’ve gained in more areas than I’ve lost. I’m as mature as friends who are ten years older. Don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult and sometimes I wonder how I’m going to get through it. But this is my life and I just get on with it. I wouldn’t change my situation for the world.”

*Names have been changed