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  • Writer's pictureMichéa Dawson, Shepherd University

When the Child Becomes the Parent

Growing up in Appalachia, I did many things for my family because it was what they expected of me. Our cultural norms resulted from being isolated from most of the world. You help your family in any way you can; this is one of the reasons the title of caregiver always felt foreign to me. It felt too impersonal.

My grandparents raised me, and in 2009, my grandfather had a heart attack that left him disabled and unable to go to work. When an independent person suddenly has to rely on others to maintain a good quality of life, it can be hard on all parties involved. So even though I was only 8-years-old, I was expected to step in and help. Sometimes that meant helping my grandfather put his shirt on, take his medications, or reheat food since he was unable to cook.

When I got older, it turned into helping him get in and out of his favorite recliner and helping him get out of bed and go to the bathroom; it was hard. My grandfather, who had taken such good care of me, suddenly relied on me to care for him. Yet, despite everything I did, I never considered myself to have the title of caregiver. I didn’t view these actions as caregiving because I didn’t know what caregiving was. I’d never heard of that title granted to someone not being paid to help.

When I arrived at the meeting with AARP, I had no idea what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to find out I had been a caregiver and would be one in the future. Going on a trip with the NMGZ community would be a transformative experience, but I had no idea it would hit so close to home. I’m still getting used to the idea of calling myself a caregiver, and the thought of being a primary caregiver in the future is terrifying. However, I know that I will care for my grandmother and mother when the time comes.

As a child, you have parental figures caring for you, and it never crosses your mind that you’ll have to take care of them. A common phrase heard throughout your childhood is, “Because as your parent, I know what’s best for you.” Your parents try to prepare you for the world, but they don’t prepare you for the day when you have to know what’s best for them. I worry about the day when I become a parent to my parents. Even though it’s a daunting task, it is one that I take on proudly. I think of everything my grandmother did for my grandfather in the last 13 years, and it’s overwhelmingly amazing.

After my visit with AARP, I have more confidence in my ability to become a caretaker. I now know what it means to be a caretaker, what questions to ask, and where to find resources for my family.


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