Solutions for Millennial Caregivers: Life Doesn’t Always Have to be This Hard
By Lisa Weitzman | 04/15/2020
In many situations, it is easy to identify problems, but far more difficult to identify possible solutions. The caregiving challenges faced by millennials are no different. We may know the statistics, such as that millennials now represent 10 million of the current caregiver population, with 73 percent juggling their caregiving responsibilities with at least one other job. We may know the impact on their physical, financial, emotional and relational health. Caregivers are forever instructed to “manage their stress.” But what can millennial caregivers actually do to ease the burden that they carry each day?
1. Play to strengths
Millennials are known to value collaboration, connection, self-care and the supportiveness of the work environment (“The millennial caregiver; an oxymoron?” Baylor College of Medicine, 2/15/19). If you’re a millennial caregiver, you can think about how you might capitalize on these strengths as you think about your caregiving responsibilities. Perhaps you will translate your comfort with accessing online information to deepen your understanding of a loved one’s disease. Or maybe you will use your voice to advocate for caregiver benefits through your employer. Millennials in general prioritize self-care more than any previous generation. How can you use these techniques to support yourself in this role?
2. Recognize that you are not alone
The reality is that no one is really fully prepared to take on the responsibility of caring for an older loved one, regardless of how old they are or what else they are juggling. Caregiving can often be a painfully isolating experience, especially for younger caregivers whose peers are consumed with starting their careers and the concerns of having a young family; in fact, 74 percent of caregivers between the ages of 18-39 report feeling isolated (“Why more millennials are becoming caregivers, PBS News Hour, 1/16/19). Connecting with other caregivers to build your own caregiving community, whether in-person or through online support groups, can help to ease the loneliness.
3. Structure your time
Life is complicated, and you may face many, often conflicting, demands. Time management will be key. You shouldn’t be afraid to create a detailed schedule and then stick to it. You might also consider talking with your supervisor or HR manager. By helping them to understand the conflicting demands on your time, they may be willing to talk about options such as flex time. And you should also recognize that it is important to create time for yourself, too.
4. Stop striving for “balance”
You may know people who seem to juggle every ball that is thrown their way with ease and grace. These people, we are led to believe, have found the secret to balancing work, family and caregiving – all while maintaining their wardrobe, diet, exercise and sleep habits. The challenge is to recognize that “balance” is elusive; the tendency to compare ourselves to others is only harmful and unrealistic. There are days when life runs smoothly, and there are days that do not go as well. You can empower yourself to let go of the pressure to be “perfect” so that you can focus instead on a strategy that works for you.
5. Embrace planning
The daunting responsibilities of caregiving often initially present themselves as crises. While most people are eager to plan weddings and voraciously read every “What to Expect When You are Expecting” book, few prepare to grow old, despite the joy of celebrating birthdays. However, planning for aging, as for other stages of life, can ease the foreboding sense of crisis, improve good decision-making and reduce the stress of caregiving. We can all start talking early on with our loved ones about their care preferences. Understanding a loved ones’ priorities makes it easier to plan for and to meet those preferences as they age, and can take additional pressure off of us in the future. You can consult with an elder law attorney and/or a financial planner together. If a loved one has been diagnosed with a chronic condition, you might also talk to a geriatric care manager or a care consultant with a care-coaching program like We Care…Because You Do, both of whom can help early on to connect you with programs and services that fit your needs in the beginning stages of a loved one’s disease, and as it progresses. AARP’s “Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families” may also help us all start this work. Allow this information to empower you rather than to raise your fears.