Dear Parent/s and Carers

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Dear Parent/s and Carers 2019-03-11T19:03:53+00:00

I was a child in the mid 90’s and regularly after school my teacher would hand me a letter addressed ‘Dear Parent/s and Carers’.

Immediately I dismissed the word ‘carer’ and using my imagination I crossed out the word parent/s and replaced it with the word ‘mum’. She was my parent and who I handed my letter to after school or frequently in my case after play centre. But what on earth did the word ‘carer’ mean? As a child I was meticulous, I crossed out every misspelt or poorly written word and even went to extreme lengths of ripping out pages out of my notebook and starting fresh. The ‘carer’ element of the addressed letter appeared unneeded, misplaced and this was confusing to my careful but curious mind.

I can’t remember how many times I asked my teacher what was meant by ‘carer’, but I know I asked and knowing me I probably asked with conviction and regularly. I don’t remember getting a clear answer, but I do remember lots of pauses, before getting a brief and confusing answer. As an adult I now know that the many teachers and school nurses were ‘skirting’ or being evasive about their answers. I often wondered if they even knew why they added the word ‘carer’; I never for one second between the ages of 4 – 8 thought this word had any true meaning to my classmates or anyone for that matter of fact. That was until I myself had a so-called ‘carer’.

I wanted my classmates to understand my mum wasn’t well and the person picking me up after school was exactly what teacher’s meant by ‘carer’.

Along the way I have learnt we often become invested and passionate about things that hold meaning to us and this is exactly what happened to eight years old me. Around age eight my mum fell ill and to my dismay, I stayed with ‘family friends’ for lengthy periods of time. As a child who had previously found the word ‘carer’ unnecessary’ I had suddenly done a 360 and became fixated on the word. Eight years old me wanted my teacher to explain to the whole class and if I had it my way the whole school, what this dubious and frustrating word meant.

I wanted my classmates to understand my mum wasn’t well and the person picking me up after school was exactly what teacher’s meant by ‘carer’. I suppose truthfully, I wanted a kind of empathy and warmth that shouldn’t and couldn’t be expected of my eight-year-old classmates. It was however exactly the validation I need for my complex feelings at that young age.

Thinking back, I did get an answer to my question. It was something like: ‘A carer is someone looking after a child, but they are not the parent’. That answer was just not good enough! I was a determined child with a strong temperament and that weak answer was not what I wanted relayed to other curious children when asking the question what is a carer?

Honestly, I can empathise with parents and teachers and their concerns around exposing other children to the complexities of what the word ‘carer’ means. Why should a child living happily with their parent/s have to understand what the word ‘carer’ means? And I don’t just mean; the isolated five letter word but rather the experiences that come with the word. Or to put more bluntly, why should a happy eight years old child have to empathise with the difficult early life experience of another eight years old child? I completely understand how someone could have this argument. On the flip side I also know how much pressure it is for a child to go about their day, playing, learning and all the while worrying about their parent and having no way of articulating to their classmates that they are struggling from being away from their mum or dad (in my case) and being looked after by a ‘carer’

Throughout my childhood I expressed my frustration and pain in many ways; mainly anger and confusion but rarely sadness and I continued to communicate this way rather than talk to my peers well into my early twenties. What if in 2002 my teacher had an open but non-personalised discussion in the classroom about what a ‘carer’ was, would it have helped eight years old me feel, understood, normal and supported? The answer is I don’t know, but it is worth considering.

I wonder if avoiding sensitive topics from an early age create barriers between children which then evolves into stigmas at different stages in our lives and well into adulthood?

How do we as teachers, parents and role models, initiate child friendly and impactful conversations with school children about sensitive issues/topics such as; disabilities, foster care and overall differences.

Doing this would help to remove stigma and would teach children compassion and understanding – valuable skills for life.