Your relationships as a young carer

Being a young carer can affect your relationships with family members, friends and partners. There are things you can do to help you build positive relationships.

How cancer may affect your relationships

Your relationships with people close to you are an important part of your life.

While you have a caring role for someone who has cancer, your relationships with friends and family may change. Try not to worry too much about this. All relationships change and develop over time. For example, you may now have a different best friend to when you first started school.

Some relationships do not last, while others grow stronger over time. You will probably experience both. But remember that help and support is always available.

Friends

Talking to friends about cancer can be hard. When the person you look after is first diagnosed, you may be in shock. You may need some time to think about who to tell.

You may worry that your friends will not understand what you are going through. If you tell them, you may feel that things will not be normal between you.

But telling friends about your situation can be positive:

  • You will have someone to talk to when you are stressed or upset.
  • You will not have to make excuses if you cancel plans with them.
  • They will understand if you are having a bad day and give you some space or more support.

You may want to start by telling one or two close friends that you are caring for someone with cancer. Be prepared for your friends to react differently. Some people will be calm and carry on as normal. Others may not know what to say or need time to think, just as you may have done.

Try to explain to your friends what it is like to be a young carer. This can help them understand your situation and how you feel.

You may see your friends less often because you are busy looking after the person with cancer. It is important to get support, so that you can still have a social life, spend time with your friends, and do things you enjoy. Using social media is also a good way of keeping in touch with friends.

You may meet other young people in a similar situation. You can do this by joining a support group, a young carers’ project or an online forum.

Family

The person that you are caring for may be your mum or dad, brother or sister, or one of your grandparents. They could be someone who lives in your house or who you see often.

It can take time for your whole family to come to terms with the cancer. The most important thing is to try to find ways of coping together. Talking to each other and spending time together can help. For example, the person you care for may be too unwell to go to the cinema. But you could buy some popcorn and watch a film together at home instead.

Having someone in the family with cancer can cause lots of different emotions. People may get angry and upset more often, or argue with each other more.

Do not feel bad if you have arguments with your family, including the person you care for. If the problem continues, you may want to consider getting emotional support, for example counselling, on your own or with your family. This can help you understand your emotions, find coping strategies, and work with family members to resolve the issues. You may worry that the counsellor won't understand, but most counsellors have experience in dealing with many different family situations.

It is important not to do everything for the person you look after. This could affect your relationship because it may feel like your roles have been reversed. Most people still want to be as independent as they can.

Getting help from family members

There are lots of ways that other family members can help, such as tidying the house or doing the shopping. This will give you a break and make them feel that they are supporting you. Do not feel like you need to do everything yourself.

It is important to tell someone if you feel uncomfortable about a caring task. Another family member may be able to help instead. You could talk to a health or social care professional about how you feel if that is easier.

Sometimes it is useful to write down who is helping, when they are coming and what they are doing. This can help make the best use of everyone’s time.

Carers UK has an online and mobile app called Jointly. It is available for a small one-off payment. You can use this app to share caring tasks with others, organise who is doing what and store useful contacts. You should check with an adult before paying for the app.

If you prefer, you can use our weekly family rota (see below). We have included examples of details you can add to the rota. You and your family can make your own version of this table. You can also make copies of the rota and use it for different weeks.

Weekly family rota

Days of work Activity Contact details: 
Monday 8am: Saffiyah taking your younger brother and sister to school  Saffiah's phone number
Tuesday 1pm: Pat driving the person with cancer to hospital day unit for chemotherapy

Pat’s phone number:

Phone number for hospital day unit:

Wednesday 8am: Saffiyah taking your younger brother and sister to school  
Thursday 3pm: Stu calling physiotherapist to ask about exercises

Stu’s phone number:

Physiotherapist’s phone number:

Friday 5pm: Keisha cooking dinner  Keisha's phone number
Saturday 10am: Pat doing the ironing  
Sunday 4pm: Liz visiting Liz's phone number:

Partners

If you are in a relationship, you might also feel able to talk to your partner about your situation. Spending time with them can also give you a break.

They might be willing to help you with the extra jobs you do at home. For example, they may agree to carry the shopping, mow the lawn or take the dog for a walk. Do not be afraid to ask them for support. But remember that these things are not their responsibility, so you should check that they are happy to help.

Being in a relationship can be fun and exciting. But you may have less spare time as a young carer and may often be thinking about the person you look after. This can affect your relationship. If things are not going well or your relationship ends, you may feel very sad. This can cause more stress in addition to your caring responsibilities.

You may feel guilty for getting upset about your relationship. Perhaps you feel that you cannot talk about this issue at home because it seems unimportant compared to the cancer. But what happens in the rest of your life still matters. Remember, you can always talk to a close friend or professional about how you feel.

About our information


  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Chief Medical Editor, Professor Tim Iveson, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.