Doing chores, it was explained to me as a kid, was just one of our duties as members of a family. We didn’t do these things to earn points with parents or get more allowance.
We did them because we had a duty to each other to make the space we share work. We did them to make sure everyone in that space with us was safe and secure.
Some kids, though, have more duties than others. For some they live on a farm and have animals to take care of. Others live in abusive homes where ‘chores’ are used as punishment and control.
Some kids live in extraordinary circumstances and have a burden of love that shapes their responsibilities.
Jonathan Gutierrez is one of those kids. While his father works 60 hours a week, Jonathan takes care of three disabled family members: a mother who suffers from multiple sclerosis, a younger brother who has had seven surgeries and a grandmother with pre-dementia.
“He is a hands-on big brother. He makes him dinner. He gives him a bath. He does his homework with him. Because I can’t do it. Because of my MS, I can’t even do second-grade homework,” his mother said.
She says that she will have three really good weeks and then one really bad week. When these flare-ups happen, it’s up to Jonathan to shoulder all the responsibilities.
Jonathan often feels alone in his work. Until he posted about it on Facebook, many of his peers didn’t know about what he was dealing with.
“They live stress-free,” he said of his friends.
“He should be worrying about homecoming and school events and going to the movies with his friends and hanging out and everything else,” his mother said.
“All he cares about is football and his family.”
But he is not entirely alone. Jonathan is a member of the Association of Caregiving Youth. Right now in the U.S., there are over a million youth engaged in caregiving.
Over 500 students are part of it in Palm Beach County where Jonathan lives. “They understand what you’re going through,” Jonathan said.
They go on outings together and have other supports for the student caregivers. “If he needs to talk to somebody, they have the counselors there,” his mother said. “It’s just an amazing program.”
Despite this, I am sure Jonathan often feels alone. I hope that with this association he knows he is not alone.
I also hope that people in his community, having heard his story, will step up and help look out for him and his loved ones.
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