Posted Thursday 14 January 2021
Emily Dawson was supported by KU Cares at Kingston University while caring for her mum and seven younger siblings. As part of the 15 year anniversary of the programme, Emily tells us in her own words the challenges she faced and how she managed them.
I graduated from Kingston University last year with a BA (Hons) in English literature and managed to achieve a 2:1, despite my caring responsibilities.
Having to study while looking after my mum and seven younger siblings was a huge strain and KU Cares supported me in so many ways. No amount of detail I go into here could do justice to the work of this scheme.
My mum suffers from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder as well as having issues with her back from having so many children, including a traumatic birth with one of them.
As an undergraduate, I had to juggle studying for my university course with caring for my mum and siblings.
In my second year, I lived at home and woke at 5am or 6am for the two-hour commute to campus. I would grab a snack, help my mum and siblings and arrive at university at 9am just in time for my first lecture.
In the evening, I arrived home at 8pm or 9pm unless I stayed with friends living near campus. Many nights, I did not have time for a proper evening meal.
During this time, I had a lot of caring responsibilities to support my mum. I often had to babysit my siblings to take the pressure off her and if one of them was unwell, I looked after them.
I often made breakfast for my siblings and helped dress them to support my mum who tired easily. Sometimes, I had to take my younger siblings to school. I also helped with cooking and cleaning and buying groceries as this was difficult for my mum who suffered from chronic pain in her back. When I was at home, I went to the local park or library to study so that I could concentrate without being disturbed.
KU Cares was aware of my situation, but I didn't feel I needed their help until the start of my second year after going through a difficult period with my family in the summer of 2018.
In my second year, I felt torn about having to live at home and look after my family and this was really affecting me. Living at home and commuting to university was exhausting and quickly led to burn-out.
I had some phone calls with KU Cares team to discuss my situation, followed by a one-to-one meeting. During this meeting, I felt, for the first time since my troubles had begun, that someone was actively listening to what I had to say. At last, I didn't feel that I was crazy or wrong for feeling the way I felt. Most importantly I realised that I was not alone.
They reassured me that they'd be there to support me and my decisions and encouraged me to inform my lecturers about my caring responsibilities, find space on campus to work on my assignments, such as in the library, and to take care of myself as much as possible.
This was an enormous support to me and enabled me to continue with my studies.
For my third year, I lived away from home for a while although I felt the burden of guilt which so many carers feel no matter what their age is.
My mum coped as well as she could and had other support. However, I still had caring responsibilities because I messaged my mum during the day and worried about my family. By the end of 2019, I felt I couldn't attend all my lectures and had to explain my absences. I returned to live at home when we went into lockdown and my caring responsibilities continued.
Despite all this, I feel very proud that I managed to get a good degree. I believe that with extra support and understanding, young carers can achieve the same as any university student who does not have caring responsibilities.
Now I am working as a part-time English tutor and in my spare time I like to listen to music and read. I'm involved in online communities such as Reddit and Wattpad where I've had my stories published.