It’s dinner time at Antoinette Smith’s home, and her youngest daughter is busy stirring spaghetti on the stove.
“Turn it down, it’s almost done,” Antoinette says.
Kaitlyn, who is 12, has many other responsibilities around the small apartment in Boynton Beach. Same goes for her sibling, Lauryn, who is 17, and Neqebah, who is 23.
“I can’t do it all without them,” the mother says.
Her daughters don’t just make dinner, take out the trash and clean their bedrooms. They are
also caregivers to each other and their mom.
Antoinette is fighting breast cancer. Kaitlyn is struggling with sickle cell amenia, a painful blood illness. And Lauryn has her own health problems. At times, all three have been in and out of hospitals at the same time.
“It was very scary,” Antoinette says, a single mother who works as a restorative nurse at a long-term care center in Boynton Beach.
Despite the health challenges, Antoinette and her daughters have stayed close and relied on each other for support as they all do their part in helping each other overcome ailments and get healthier. Caregiving for each other has actually strengthened the family, Antoinette says.
“We don’t have a choice in being caregivers,” Neqebah says. “It’s a part of our lives. For me, it’s made me stronger. I’ve become more decisive and better at making big decisions.”
Caregiving, of course, is difficult for anyone, especially young people. Providing care for a parent is hard enough but when adding in a sibling or two, it can be even more complex. The job of caregivers, at any age, is stressful, tiring and can feel isolating from friends and the community.
The Smith family has gotten some help. Over the years, Boca Raton-based American Association of Caregiving Youth, which is a community partner of Healthier Boynton Beach, has provided Kaitlyn and Lauryn many services, including psychological assistance, tutoring and a laptop to do homework, Antoinette says.
“I’m grateful for the help. It’s made a lot of difference for my girls,” she says.
The future remains challenging for the family, but no matter the health and financial burdens, Antoinette pushes the girls to be the best they can be and demands they do well at school, go to college and find good careers.
Neqebah has graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University and is now working as a sales associate at a fitness studio. Lauryn is in her final year at Boynton Beach High School and is waiting to hear from colleges to decide where she’s going next year. And Kaitlyn attends Congress Middle School and looks forward to a career in engineering.
“People always ask me: how do you all do it?” Antoinette says. “I tell them: it’s all part of life. We don’t have a choice. It’s going to be ok.”
No matter how tough things get, she makes sure there’s plenty of love in her home.
“I’m so proud of my girls in everything they do,” Antoinette says.
Learn more about American Association of Caregiving Youth here.