Young caregivers can be nurtured through living examples and being taught the values of caring for others.
In 2018, the Ministry of Health Singapore announced that the caregiving responsibility will grow by 2030 with the rising silver tsunami. There seems to be more young adults taking up the caregiver role for their older family members due to the old-age support ratio with smaller family units of married couples with fewer or no children. Based on research conducted by the Centre of Ageing Research and Education, the underlying philosophy of care in Singapore appears to be associated with the Asian philosophy of familism and filial piety which are values imparted to some young caregivers (Wong & Chan, 2020) .
There are some young caregivers of patients under the care of the Singapore Cancer Society (SCS) Hospice Care Team who perceive life as a circle where the old took care of the young and it is hence their turn to take care of their elders.
The Team also hopes to nurture the younger generation on the value of caregiving for the elders. Nurturing the next generation of caregivers involves modelling values of care within the home through social networks. This includes involving the next generation to contribute to caring for people with illnesses in any meaningful way.
Madam Wahidah, a caregiver of her terminally ill mother, shared, “There is so much satisfaction to be chosen by my own mother to be her caregiver. She took care of us when we were young, and it is our turn to look after her now. My twelve-year-old daughter sees that I’m taking care of my mother every day. One day, I was surprised to see my daughter wheeling her grandmother to the doorstep to have some fresh air and she sat beside her to keep her company. It was a heartwarming sight.” Madam Wahidah also shared that when her mother became increasingly unresponsive, her daughter helped as well. She shared, “When I was preparing food in the kitchen, my daughter accompanied her grandmother by her bedside while studying for her PSLE.”
Lynn, who is in her 30s, took care of her terminally ill grandmother at home, and roped in her primary-school-aged daughters to help with tasks such as wiping her back and eating durian with her. She speaks openly to her daughters about caring for the older generation. This value of caring for elders which she learned from her grandmother, also influenced her to actively support others to care for their terminally ill loved ones. She shared, “My grandmother would have appreciated that the experience of taking care of her is shared with others as well.” She has been sharing her caregiving experience with friends who are also caregivers.
Eighty-eight-year-old Madam Chang had received ‘love letters’ from her grandsons, Kai Xuan and Ding Xuan who are in their 30s, when she was in critical condition in April 2022. Madam Chang was touched, sharing that “the letters are written from the bottom of my grandsons’ hearts and out of their deep love for me and my care for them”. Kai Xuan, an IT professional, reflected that he felt the urgency to step up in his role as a “caregiver to my mother, my grandma’s caregiver” when he realised that he could lose his beloved grandmother who had doted on him since birth. He had not written a Chinese essay since his teenage years.
Together with his brother, they wrote Chinese letters titled “彩虹的约定” (“The Covenant of the Rainbow”) and “雨过天晴” to express their appreciation and affection, and encourage Madam Chang to “have faith in God that we can be together, whether in this life or in heaven”.
For these young caregivers, it is an important duty to support their mother, who is the main caregiver, whom they have witnessed providing round-the-clock care to their grandmother. As grandchildren, they have an equally significant role to return the love and nurturing they received from their grandparent and render direct care and support to her too. Madam Chang’s main caregiver and daughter, Catherine, feels blessed by her two sons and believes that Madam Chang gives back to her by reciprocating with constant words of assurance, “Without you I could not have lived on in comfort.” Catherine’s takeaway is: “A caregiving journey may be filled with challenges, but you can do it with a relay team of caregivers and receive blessings of love in return especially with God as the leader of the team.”
While every young caregiver may come from different backgrounds and have different caregiving experience, they have been conscious recipients of similar cultural and family values which have helped them in picking up the caregiving load with purpose and unconditional love.
MOH (2018). MOH Leads Review to Strengthen Caregiver Support For Seniors. Retrieved from https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/ moh-leads-review-to-strengthen-caregiver- support-for-seniors
Wong, C. H. & Chan. A. (2020). Background Report on Care for Older Adults in Singapore. The role of families and local and national support system. Centre of Ageing Research and Education.
Words & Photos: SCS Hospice Care Team